Coming in at 5 feet 11 inches and weighing 215 pounds, freshman linebacker Paul “PJ” Davis may not be the biggest guy on the field, but he is starting to make his presence felt for the Jackets. Davis is one of just two true freshman to make their collegiate debut for the Jackets in the season opener against Elon, the other being kicker Harrison Butker.
Davis attended Cairo High School in Cairo, Ga. where he played both linebacker and running back. Though Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards and had over 100 tackles his senior year, he was being still being overlooked by many colleges due to his size.
Davis was originally committed to play at Temple, but when the Jackets made an offer the week of National Signing Day, Davis flipped almost immediately.
“All my life people had been telling me that I was too small, so I just use that as motivation to make me go harder,” Davis said.
Davis, who wears number 40 for the Jackets, very much resembles the last Tech player to wear that number, Julian Burnett. At 5 feet 10 inches, Burnett was also considered too short to play linebacker by many, but Burnett ended up leading the team with 89 tackles in 2010. Unfortunately, Burnett suffered a career ending injury in the 2011 Sun Bowl.
According to Davis, he did not request number 40; that was simply the number assigned to him.
The decision to make an offer to Davis seems to be paying off for the Jackets. Paul Johnson traditionally doesn’t play many true freshman, but Johnson obviously thinks Davis has earned the opportunity to get on the field and show what he can do.
“I was excited,” Davis said. “I was one of the last ones to get offered. It was like a week before signing day. Playing as a true freshman is what I wanted, and it was unexpected, but I just came and worked hard during camp and now I’m playing as a true freshman.”
Davis had a solid debut for Tech, recording six tackles, including a tackle for a loss, while playing both special teams and getting some playing time at linebacker in the second half.
Davis said the biggest differences between high school football and college football were the speed of the game and the importance of the linebackers getting into pass coverage. Overall, Davis thinks he played fairly well in his debut.
“First time out there playing the college game, I made a few mistakes, but I feel like I had some good tackles. I got to the ball, gave 100 percent. I got tired at times, but I just fought through it. I think I had a pretty good game, just got to keep getting better each and every week,” Davis said.
Davis may not have earned a starting linebacker spot yet this season, but he’s behind a pretty good core of them on the depth chart. Although the group of Brandon Watts, Jabari Hun-Days and Quayshawn Nealy may be preventing Davis from starting any games this season, he is getting the opportunity to learn from the veteran group during team practice.
“They’ve been great. They helped me a lot and showed me everything. Just trying to learn from them each and everyday at practice. All three of them, Watts, Nealy and Hunt-Days, are great linebackers and good people to learn from,” Davis said.
“My expectations coming in were just to come in and give 110 percent. Just listen and learn from all of my coaches and try to find a way on to the field.”