ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Troy Davis came flying around the left end as if he had been flung out of a sling shot, allowing him to easily get past the offensive tackle trying to block him.
When the quarterback stepped up into the pocket to avoid Davis streaking off the edge, the UCF senior defensive end reached back across his body for anything he could get his hands on. However, when Davis' right hand snagged on the shoulder pad it mildly dislocated one of his fingers.
Easily one of UCF's most vocal players on the field, Davis growled like a bear, let out a primal scream and briefly doubled over in pain. But then he did what any tough guy - and any senior being looked to for leadership - would have done. Davis waived off the athletic trainers, popped the finger back into place all by himself and never missed a snap.
You might expect that sort of scenario in a big game in November or bowl game in December, but this is March and the spring drills underway are mostly installation sessions. But according to Davis, it's never too early to make an impression as a leader for a UCF team that is seeking some guidance from one of its standout senior players.
``I want to be a better leader,'' Davis said with conviction. ``I want to help lead this team. I know I can do it and I have to because I have a lot of people following me. So if I can step up and be a great leader we should be pretty good this season.''
That's certainly the hope after UCF went 5-7 last season. A year after winning a school record 11 games and beating Georgia in the Liberty Bowl, expectations were at an all-time high at UCF. However, the Knights lost six games by seven points or less - two of which came on the final play of the game.
Davis said there's a drive among the team this spring to put last year's memory out of their heads and so a little extra now so that the Knights don't come up short again next season.
``A lot of guys had a lot of built-up testosterone in them after not getting to a bowl game. Even though a lot of our drills have been tag-off there has been a lot of contact out there,'' Davis said. ``Last season drives me a lot. We had a lot of high expectations that we didn't live up to. It's behind us, but we use that as motivation. We don't want another (5-7) season. We want to get back on the winning track.''
It was this time last year that Davis looked to be on a track to stardom at UCF. The 6-foot-2, 256-pounder from Lawrenceville, Ga., had 5.5 sacks as a sophomore and a key one late against Georgia that helped the Knights wrap up the Liberty Bowl. And he followed that up by terrorizing quarterbacks last spring and registered five ``touch off'' sacks in the spring game.
But what followed last season from Davis was emblematic of UCF's season. With quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly and teams using running backs to chip-block Davis as he was engaged with linemen, he didn't record his first sack until the eighth game of the season. He did finish the year strongly, getting four sacks in the final three games.
Overall, Davis had a solid season with 29 total stops, 8.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. But the slow start from last year still bothers him and he's determined to not let it happen again.
``It was kind of rough not getting to the quarterback. There were a lot of quick throws. It was so hard those (six) games because you want to get to the quarterback so bad, but it showed me you have to work as a team,'' Davis said. ``It's not always about you doing it on your own. You have to play off the other three guys and get it done as a group. This spring, Vic (Gray) and Toby (Jackson) and Cam (Henderson) are playing off me and I'm doing the same with them.''
Davis said that UCF has the potential to have the best defensive line in Conference USA, especially with the emergence of E.J. Dunston and Andrew Rice at tackle. Jackson and Henderson, junior college transfers a year ago, have a season in the program now and should blossom this season. And Davis is doing his best to lead the group and set a good example as a senior.
``We had young guys last year and it didn't go as well as we wanted,'' Davis said. ``But a lot of the guys now have been in the program for a year or so and they know what is expected of them. They all know now how we play defense at UCF and I think we'll be a lot better.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.