By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
Hoover, Ala. -- The 2011 edition of the Southeastern Conference media days kicked off on Wednesday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham, Ala. Four of the league’s 12 teams participated on the opening day and, as expected, the day was full of excitement and story lines.
Arkansas’ Davis Finds Edge in Weight Room
When Knile Davis joined the Arkansas football program, he was just 16 years of age. He was talented, but significantly younger than all of his teammates. He knew he would have to do something to make himself stand out.
He found his answer in the weight room.
“I’m just a weight room guru,” Davis said.
It’s something that has been a part of Davis’ life since the eighth grade; an activity that he shared with his step-father growing up.
“I love to go to the weight room,” Davis said. “I just love it. A lot of that has been instilled in me by my step-father. That’s just what we did and, from the eighth grade, it’s just been a part of me. That’s why I’m able to lift all that weight. I just love to do it.”
To describe it quantitatively, Davis is part of what he calls the “3-4-5 club,” a term from his prep days at Fort Bend Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas. He can clean more than 300 pounds, bench press better than 400 pounds and squad well over 500 pounds.
But it’s not just the numbers. Davis loves the technical aspect of his strength and conditioning training.
“I know the technique to anything in the weight room,” Davis said. “I know how to stay safe and change weight. I know everything about the weight room.”
Davis’ hard-work in the weight room is perhaps only overshadowed by his work-ethic on the gridiron. As a 17-year-old true sophomore, Davis was called into duty when running back and special-teams specialist Dennis Johnson went down with a season-ending injury in the team’s second game of the season against Louisiana Monroe.
“Knile Davis graduated early from high school and we got him in January,” Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. “He was only 16 years old. Last year, halfway through the year, we lost Dennis Johnson and Knile said ‘I’m going to show everybody I’m the starting running back just by the way I practice.’”
Davis made eight starts last season, earning first-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press and becoming just the 10th player in school history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in a single season. He finished the 2011 campaign with 1,322 yards, which went down as the fourth-highest single-season total in program annals.
With the numbers Davis put up last season and his potential for the upcoming campaign, the talk by many has centered around numerous awards, but the 6-foot, 226 lbs. junior isn’t thinking along those lines.
“My only goal this year is to win,” Davis said. “If we take care of that, everything else will take care of itself.”
That type of humility just speaks to Davis’ character and is one of many aspects that make him a special player for the Razorbacks.
“He just turned 18 last year in October and is still just a youngster,” Petrino said. “But what a great young man and a great football player.”
The Razorbacks open their 2011 campaign on Sept. 3 against Missouri State in Fayetteville.
Knile Davis Weight Room Numbers
Clean: 320 lbs.
Bench Press: 430 lbs.
Squat: 550 lbs.
Says Davis: “I’m a 3-4-5 player.”
Florida’s Muschamp Knows Staff As Critical To Success As Players
Florida’s first year head coach Will Muschamp has spent the last seven months trying to wrap his arms around one of the most challenging jobs in the country. While he understands that having talented players is a key component of success, he also knows the importance of having a good staff.
“I think the worst thing you can do in a leadership position is be something you’re not,” Muschamp said. “I’m a defensive coach. I coached special teams. Hiring a staff, to me, is a little bit like recruiting. You want to identify what you’re looking for.”
One of the main components that Muschamp knew he needed to add to his staff was an experienced coach go handle his offense. He knows the value of hiring assistants whose strengths are his own weakness.
“I wanted a proven quarterback coach,” Muschamp said. “I wanted someone with NFL and college experience.”
He found his answer in Charlie Weis, an NFL veteran who had served as head coach at Notre Dame from 2005-09.
“I’m very pleased with where we are right now with Charlie,” Muschamp said. “Philosophically being on the same page, the development of the quarterback speaks for itself and the development of the offense speaks for itself. I really enjoyed going through spring with him and seeing his expertise in play calling.”
Florida quarterback John Brantley says the addition of Weis has been welcome by the team’s offensive players.
“The way he coaches, drop back and play action, he’s going to model the offense around what his players do best,” Brantley said on Wednesday. “The spring was more about putting in the basics, but we’re going to see it in the fall.”
Muschamp credited his knowledge of running a program with a talented staff to current Alabama head coach Nick Saban, whom Muschamp worked for at LSU from 2001-04.
“More than anything, he just taught me total program management,” Muschamp said. “What you believe offensively, defensively and on special teams need to be tied together on both sides of the ball. You don’t want two separate units for what they are – some teams do that.”
The Gators open their 2011 schedule on Sept. 3, taking on Florida Atlantic in Gainesville.
What They Said About Will Muschamp on Wednesday …
Quarterback John Brantley: “He’s very intense. He’s a great coach; a great defensive coach. He has great intensity and he’s brought that to the team. We needed that, that giddy-up.”
Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson: “He’s more energetic. He’ll get out on the field, run with us, work out with us sometimes.”
Defensive End William Green: “He’s big about doing things ‘The Florida Way’ – playing hard, running to the ball. He’s a bit more intense; more of a defensive mind.”
South Carolina Enjoying Opportunity To Experience Firsts
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has been known throughout his career as a program-builder.
He has done it everywhere he has been – the Tampa Bay Bandits, Duke, Florida and now South Carolina. It’s what he enjoys most about the job, even after 28 years.
“That’s the fun part – it certainly is for me,” Spurrier said. “Achieving things that never happened before. We made some progress last year. We did some things for the first time ever. We’ve accomplished a few firsts, but there’s plenty more to go after.”
Spurrier knows a thing or two about winning. He led Florida to the 1996 National Championship, claiming six SEC Championships and garnering seven SEC Coach of the Year honors along the way.
Still, Spurrier is hungry for more.
His Gamecocks closed the 2010 season with two consecutive losses, falling to eventual BCS Champion Auburn in the SEC title game and Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
“We lost our last two games last year, so we’re not sitting around patting each other on the back too much,” Spurrier said. “I think it’s nice to have the magazines say we’ve got a chance. Some of them are picking us to win the East. But only time will tell. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Spurrier knows that winning on the field requires first-and-foremost a core of talented players. He’s fortunate to have that entering the 2011 season.
“We have some good players,” Spurrier said. “All summer, I said Marcus Lattimore is the best running back in the country, and Aishon Jeffery is the best receiver in the country. We have a couple players that have a good chance to be All-Americans this year.”
Lattimore is a sophomore tailback from Duncan, S.C., who was a unanimous selection for SEC Freshman of the Year in 2010. One of the most decorated prospects in South Carolina high school history, Lattimore believed what Spurrier told him about the future of the Gamecock program. In his rookie campaign, he saw much of that come to fruition.
“When I came to South Carolina, I just took Coach Spurrier’s word,” Lattimore said. “He has won six SEC Championships – he knows what it takes. He told me the truth. He told me we were going to run the ball. I believed him and we did.”
South Carolina has continued its success on the recruiting trail, inking several of the nation’s top prospects to solidify the future of the program.
“The reason that we have hope is because we have been able to recruit the best players in our state,” Spurrier said. “When you can do that, then you can pick maybe some guys in the border states to help out. Recruiting gives us another chance to be successful and that’s where we are.”
The Gamecocks open their 2011 season on Sept. 3, facing East Carolina in Charlotte, N.C.
Mullen: Mississippi State Fan Base Has “Made All The Difference”
When then-Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen interviewed for the head coaching job at Mississippi State, he had only one concern. He had never visited Starkville and knew very little about the town.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Mullen’s wife, Megan, had. She gave her husband a raving recommendation on the charming Eastern Mississippi town.
“She covered a U.S. mid-amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club when she worked for The Golf Channel in West Point, Miss.,” Mullen recalled. “She likes college towns, so she drove over and had dinner in Starkville and toured the town a little bit. She said it was a really neat place with great people there. She said ‘You’ll like it.’ So I just trusted her.”
Mullen and his staff took root in Starkville, recruiting and building the program. But he and the athletics staff understood that the undertaking included more than just what took place on the gridiron.
“When I got hired, they were saying, ‘Boy, if we start winning games, you’ll sell out the stadium and things will be great.’ It actually works in the reverse,” Mullen said. “You sell out the stadium, you create the game-day environment and you’re going to start winning football games. Our fans really bought into it. They bought into their role and their responsibility in making our team successful.”
Mullen has embraced football in Starkville, but he has also embraced Starkville as a community. His school’s aggressive marketing pitch of “This Is Our State” reflects the head coach’s belief that Mississippi State is the “people’s University in Mississippi,” as he stated on Wednesday at SEC Media Days.
“If you come to Starkville on a Saturday, it is an event,” Mullen said. “It’s the place to be in Mississippi. There’s so much going on for everybody in the family. I think everybody, when they walk out and leave Starkville on a Saturday, they’re looking forward to coming back. That’s made all the difference.”
In past years, winning nine games and claiming the Gator Bowl would be reason to celebrate in Bulldog country, but Mullen has changed the culture in Starkville.
“The whole expectation is: We had a nine-win season last year, and we look at it as a motivator,” said running back Vick Ballard. “You don’t want to get complacent. You’ve got to come ready to play each week and, if you can finish at the top, then you’ll be one of the best teams in the country.”
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox agrees, saying that the team won’t be satisfied to rest on the successes of a year ago.
“The mindset’s a whole lot different,” Cox said. “With Coach Mullen, he wants us to do things a whole lot better than last year.”
For Mullen, the accomplishments of 2011, coupled with the fervor of the fan base has created a unique opportunity for Mississippi State to build on its solid foundation.
“We’ve had a lot of great things happen at Mississippi State,” Mullen said. “Coming into this season, we’ve had tickets sell out the earliest in the history of the school. We’re coming off 10 consecutive sellouts and the atmosphere that our fan base has created is up. I can’t wait to get this season going.”
The Bulldogs open their 2011 campaign on Sept. 1, when they travel to Memphis, Tenn., to take on Memphis.