COLUMBIA — Almost two years after the messy divorce ended, Mike Davis’ wounds are still fresh.
South Carolina’s running back once saw himself in orange and blue, doing the Gator chomp in The Swamp. Davis was expected to be a key member of Florida’s 2012 signing class, so long as it didn’t recruit another running back after he committed.
James Davis said the Gators gave his younger brother their assurances, but it didn’t last long. When Florida tried to woo five-star prospect Keith Marshall, who eventually signed with Georgia, it was an irrecoverable breach in trust.
“They didn’t express to us they were recruiting another running back or anything,” James Davis told The Post and Courier on Thursday. “They just kind of go out and do it. It opened up the door. I knew at the moment, Mike, he didn’t like it. He felt like they weren’t honest and they were being disloyal.”
Usually, James Davis said he caught red flags before there was a problem. The former Clemson running back knew the recruiting process well from his own experiences. When Florida went against its word, his brother was blindsided. USC coach Steve Spurrier tried to downplay his running back’s personal connection to Florida this week. Mike Davis isn’t the only Gamecock who de-committed from the Gators, he said. Defensive end Chaz Sutton and cornerback Victor Hampton did the same.
Still, the bitterness persists. On Saturday, when South Carolina hosts Florida for a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2, there will be a message behind each yard Davis gains.
It’s etched on Davis’ arm, a new tattoo the sophomore tailback got last week when his team was on a bye.
James Davis saw the tattoo for the first time when his brother visited home over the weekend. He knew exactly what it meant.
“All it said was ‘loyalty,’” James Davis said. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I couldn’t believe it. So I think this one definitely is personal.”
Personal, because of the way Davis feels about his current teammates and coaches, but also for the emotions he harbors against the team he once thought would be his.
Now, Davis finds himself in the midst of a breakout sophomore season with the Gamecocks. He was named one of 10 semifinalists Thursday for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation’s top running back. His 1,384 yards from scrimmage, and 1,058 rushing, lead the SEC this season.
On Saturday, he’ll get a chance to show the Gators what they’re missing.
“I think Mike’s definitely going to have to carry them — definitely in this game — because just looking at Florida’s defense, they’re still pretty good,” James Davis said. “And they’re very good against the pass. I think this will definitely be a game that Mike can showcase himself on in a national spotlight.
“He’s really trying to have the best game of his career.”
Davis was unavailable to the media this week. Using Twitter, the sophomore still made his feelings clear to the public.
“Y’all know I was committed to UF right ..” Davis tweeted Sunday morning.
“Never been so eager to play #hungry” he tweeted a couple hours later.
James Davis said he’s talked to his brother every day this week, keeping him calm. It’s a long way to Saturday, even longer when one game means so much. He’s told his brother to approach it as “just another game,” though it’s clear he won’t.
James Davis said South Carolina’s blowout loss at Florida last season didn’t help heal his brother’s wounds. He made one thing clear — two years is not enough time to get over the past. This week, that could change.
“I don’t think he’s gotten over it because he hasn’t beaten Florida,” James Davis said. “I think once he gets a win under his belt, maybe it will calm down. But, me personally, I don’t think he’s gotten over it because he went down there and stunk it up last year.
“So I think this year, definitely, he’s looking forward to trying to get this win. After that, maybe it will calm down, but it’s definitely not over, no.”