August 15, 2005

Tulsa's Davis making his mark

The legend has some advice for the legend-in-the-making.

"To be a punt returner or a kick returner takes a special knack," said former Southern California tailback/returner Anthony Davis, part of the 2005 College Football Hall of Fame class. "You've got to have straight-out speed and good instincts. You've got to be fearless, too."

For 32 years, the Trojans' "A.D." has been alone atop the NCAA record book in kickoff returns for touchdown with six. Five games into last season he still led Tulsa's Ashlan Davis 6-0.

Then the diminutive speedster from Mesquite, Texas, found his legs and some open field against opposing special teams. The result? A jaw-dropping five kickoff returns for TD in seven games, including a streak of four games in a row.

"I was always a starter on kickoff returns, but at the same time I had limited playing time at receiver," Ashlan Davis said in explaining his late-season burst. "I was able to get more into the flow of the game as I played more and more.

"You need to feel the flow of the game. Once you're in the game for a while, you get used to the speed and get used to the opponent and then your natural ability takes over."

And over and over. Ashlan Davis returned a kickoff for a touchdown every weekend from Oct. 16 through Nov. 6, from Reno to Dallas. You'd think it would have dawned on the opposition two or three games into the streak to avoid him. SMU was victim No. 4.

No fear
Ashlan Davis began his returning exploits at Mesquite (Texas) Poteet High School under coach Bill Taylor. To the best of his recollection, Taylor said Davis had three kickoff returns for touchdown in his two varsity seasons.

"He had a little knack for it," Taylor said. "He just sees things, makes people miss."

His junior college coach, Dale Carr, said Davis also has the requisite kamikaze attitude.

"He's tough as nails, cat quick, and not scared of the devil," Carr said.

Davis' father is a mechanic, and Ashlan remembers growing up around the racetrack, where he developed a fascination with drag racing.

"I like the sound, the speed, the feel and the rumble of it," Davis said. "It's kind of like an earthquake when a car takes off. You can feel the thrust and sound."

It could be similar to the way a crowd erupts when a kickoff arrives in Davis' hands.

--Bob McClellan

"He's very tough to prepare for," said Mustangs coach Phil Bennett, who nonetheless did try and prepare and will have to again on Oct. 22 when SMU visits Tulsa. "We were able to pin him back four times, but that fifth time, all it took was one little crease "

Anthony Davis is aware of Ashlan Davis and says the youngster is a special talent. But the 1974 Heisman Trophy runner-up still believes he could impart some wisdom.

"I wish I could put him and (current USC RB/return specialist) Reggie Bush in a room for a good hour and give them my knowledge of running the ball back," Anthony Davis said. "If they would talk to some good kick returners from the past they could learn a lot from us."

Anthony Davis was at his best in big games. His kickoff return heroics, as well as his running behind some great offensive lines, helped USC win national championships in 1972 and 1974.

His most notable kickoff return for a touchdown came during that '74 season. USC trailed Notre Dame 24-6 when Davis opened the second half with an electrifying jaunt that started a run of 49 unanswered points.

"I did it in big games," the original A.D. said. "I did it when we were playing for national titles.

"But it's hard to do at any time against anybody. It takes a special person to do it,+ and (Ashlan) is a special person."

Ashlan Davis' has the requisite speed to be a return man as he can run a 4.45-second 40-yard dash. But Anthony Davis will tell you if all it took was speed there would be more top kick returners.

"The key to being a great kickoff returner is to be able to make moves at top speed," Anthony Davis said. "If you can do that there's no way a defender can stop and change direction and make a move to catch you. I used to train making moves at top speed.

"We worked very hard on special teams. We'd think of the field being split three ways, middle and the hash marks left or right, and I always tried to keep a 5-7 yard relationship with the wedge. When they made contact with the kickoff team, I was at full speed. Then it was just looking for open lanes."

Should Ashlan Davis bump him from the top of the heap, Anthony Davis hopes he's near an open line.

Anthony Davis said. "Tell him to work with them after practice, 20 minutes after every practice.

"I'd like to see him break (the record) and give me a call when he does," Anthony Davis said.

"If he'd like for me to call him, I'd call him," Ashlan Davis said. "I don't know really what I'd say. I'd say that I appreciate him recognizing me breaking the record."



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