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Due to their return from injuries and their laid-back personalities, Malik Davis and Marco Wilson are flying under the radar a bit this preseason, but they could be two of the Gators’ most important players.
As a freshman in 2017, Davis rose from fourth on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp to the starting running back by midseason. He led the Gators with 526 yards on 79 carries prior to sustaining a season-ending knee injury against Georgia. He worked his way back into a contributing role early in the 2018 season, only to break his left foot in the third game against Colorado State.
Davis returned to practice in the spring, and he said that he feels 100 percent healthy for the start of fall camp.
“I think you have to be extremely mentally strong to go through two season-ending injuries and then be able to rehab and come back from it,” he said. “As long as you got a good head on your shoulders, you’ll be just fine. I think that was the main thing.”
He said remaining patient was the most challenging aspect of his rehab. There were days when he wanted to be back on the field running with his teammates, but he couldn’t as he waited for his foot to fully heal.
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A lot of fans and media seem to talk about Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce forming a dangerous one-two punch in the backfield and don’t give Davis much consideration. But, Davis has a very realistic chance of winning the No. 2 job in fall camp, as he worked with the second unit in the first two practices.
Perine is a physical, fight-for-every-yard type of runner, but he doesn’t have elite straight-line speed or agility. Davis is an electric, agile runner who prefers to make defenders miss in the open field than run through them, so he and Perine would complement each other well.
Davis is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and you can never have too many of those type of players on the field. He’s probably the best pass-catching running back as well, which gives coach Dan Mullen plenty of options for how to use him.
Mullen used his top two backs almost equally last season, so, if Davis beats out Pierce, he should have a major role this season.
“I’m very excited,” Davis said. “I’ve been waiting so long to just play again. So, I’m happy to just get out there and just compete.”
Meanwhile, Gators fans and local media know how big of a deal getting Wilson back is to the defense, but he doesn’t seem to be receiving any kind of attention outside of Gainesville.
Wilson started all 11 games as a freshman in 2017, broke up a team-best 10 passes and was named to the Coaches’ Freshman All-SEC Team. He entered 2018 as a member of the Preseason All-SEC Third Team but tore an ACL against Kentucky and missed the remainder of the year.
Wilson sat out of all contact drills in the spring, but he’s back and fully participating in practice in the fall.
“He’s ready to go,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I know he’s chomping at the bit to get out there. He’s really excited. He’s working extremely hard to get back. Really excited to get him to be a part of our secondary and our team. So, I’m really looking forward to him being out there.”
Wilson also tore an ACL in his junior year of high school. He said his rehab was better this time than it was in high school, and he surprised himself by being able to run after about three months.
“[Starting fall camp is] really exciting because sitting out is just not something that’s fun,” he said. “So, being able to be out there and getting better with your teammates every day will be really exciting for me.”
In his absence a season ago, some teams refused to throw at CJ Henderson and instead opted to pick on Trey Dean and C.J. McWilliams, with a decent amount of success. A healthy and high-performing Wilson would force teams to pick their poison and give the Gators’ secondary more opportunities to intercept passes.
Wilson bulked up to 196 pounds over the summer. Not only does he feel comfortable running at his new weight, he said he feels stronger and faster than he did last season.
UF needs him to pick up where he left off as a freshman and stay healthy because the depth behind he and Henderson consists of three freshmen and McWilliams.
Based off of talent alone, Wilson might be thought of well enough by NFL scouts and general managers to declare for the draft following this season. However, there’s sure to be some skepticism about his durability given his two ACL tears in four years. But, he’s not ready to worry about all of that yet, and he’s kept his goals for this season simple.
“I want to go [to the] SEC Championship, and I want to win that,” he said. “After that, go wherever that takes us. But, I really just want to win an SEC Championship. Individual goals, I just want to keep lockdown coverage, catch interceptions and that’s it.”
Just two years ago, Wilson and Davis were thought of as the future of Florida football. Now, they’re looking to shake off a rough past and play key roles in helping the Gators take the next step from great to championship contenders.
“I feel like God makes everything happen for a reason,” Davis said. “So, I feel like He put me in this situation for a reason, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”