At this time a year ago, Quinshad Davis was homesick. Stricken with it. He called home to his mother in Gaffney, S.C., every day, without fail, as a freshman.
To begin his sophomore year, the North Carolina wide receiver is going his home state, but for the Tar Heels’ opening game at South Carolina as their go-to target. Bigger, stronger and more at home in Chapel Hill, Davis’ personality has started to emerge just as his game started to emerge over the second half of last season.
“I had to call my mom every day,” Davis said. “I wasn’t ready for it. I was away from home, felt homesick, I just wasn’t mentally tough. Now I got a whole year under me.”
“She calls me,” Davis said.
Davis’ mother isn’t the only one calling him. After Davis set school freshman records with 61 catches and 776 yards last season, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora is calling for a minimum of 100 catches this year. And going up against his home-state team in the opener, people from Gaffney are calling for something else: his head.
“It’s a little bit of Clemson, but it’s lot of South Carolina where I’m from,” Davis said. “I hear it all the time: ‘Watch out for (Jadeveon) Clowney, you better watch out, they’re going to be good.’ But I don’t pay it no mind. I just try to go out and make plays. They could go 0-11, my town would still talk trash.”
Davis was never averse to talking a little trash himself on the field, but his personality off the field has started to blossom this season. Fedora says he never doubted Davis’ confidence, even when he was just a shy, skinny freshman, but it’s bursting out now. Quarterback Bryn Renner said Davis is more vocal, calling for the ball instead of calling home every day.
The expectations set for Davis and tight end Eric Ebron, who Fedora has instructed to provide a minimum of 12 touchdowns, are pretty steep. Even in North Carolina’s frenetic offense, those are lofty goals. Yet Davis is now comfortable enough to laugh them off, easily.
“We can get two people over 100 catches,” Davis said. “We can get two people with 10, 20 touchdowns. Not 20 touchdowns. I’m exaggerating. But we throw the ball a whole bunch, so it’s realistic.”
For Davis, it’s more than just talk. After being challenged by Fedora to pack more muscle onto his “skinny, bird-chested” 6-foot-4 frame, Davis went to work in the weight room this summer. He hit his targets and more. It wasn’t just about getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger, though.
After serving largely as a possession receiver last season, Davis will take on a bigger role in the offense this season, and Fedora wants to see more explosive plays, more finish, to go with those hands. Davis has proven he can go up and get the ball; this year, he’ll have to show he’s strong enough to do more with it once he has it.
“I don’t know how many times Quinshad was tackled inside the 5-yard line,” Fedora said. “You want to take your game to the next level? Let’s get the ball in the end zone, let’s not be denied.”
A year ago, all Davis could think about was going home. He’s going home now: bigger, stronger, more confident. Ready for the biggest game of his career.