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Vaught's Views: Pinner's departure creates mixed feelings for Davis

August 11, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - The opportunity for playing time created by the departure of Artose Pinner is a major reason Draak Davis came to the University of Kentucky. However, it's also a reason he feels immense pressure as he starts preparing for his first season with the Wildcats.

Pinner led the Southeastern Conference in rushing last year and was a major reason the Wildcats went 7-5. Despite being injured in an all-star game, he was drafted by the Detroit Lions and could get significant playing time this season.

Kentucky is left without a No. 1 back. It could be sophomore Alexis Bwenge, Pinner's backup last year. It could be sophomore Arliss Beach. Or it could be Davis, a transfer from Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif., where he rushed for 1,846 yards and 23 touchdowns last year and led California's 76 junior colleges in rushing yardage and rushing average (8.4 yards per carry).

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Davis has three years of eligibility remaining. He spent the 2000 season at Eastern Washington, but redshirted. He transferred to Solano last season.

"It is big pressure trying to follow Pinner," said Davis Friday during Kentucky's Media Day. "A lot of people come up to me and talk about him. He's a legend. We will need a committee of running backs to fill his shoes."

Davis certainly won't fill Pinner's shoes. Or shirt. Or pants.

Pinner developed into a bruising runner who could run by or over defenders. Davis is listed at 5-7, 170 pounds but admits those numbers are not exactly right. At best, he's 5-6 and maybe 170 pounds. That's why it's no surprise that his all-time favorite back is Barry Sanders -- Davis "cried" when Sanders retired from the Detroit Lions -- and that he's already been told of his resemblance to former UK standout Mark Higgs because of their similar stature.

"I've got to play and run with no fear. I can't be scared," Davis said. "I have to use my size to my advantage. I try to hide a lot from those big guys and use their size against them."

How?

"A lot of big players try to take my head off," Davis said. "I can sometimes duck to make them miss or just avoid them. It's easier for me to stop than it is for them. But I won't ever try to run over one of those big guys. Even if I won, I would feel more of the impact. I'm too smart to do something like that."

His forte is speed

Nothing wrong with that, either, because he's not going to help compensate for Pinner's loss with bruising runs. No, his forte is speed. He had five runs of 80 or more yards last season and had one game where he tied a national junior college record by running for seven scores. He also averaged 16 yards per reception on his 23 catches and turned seven of them into touchdowns.

"In one day with Davis, you could see the explosiveness, quickness and speed he has," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said Friday. "He'll be hard to find (because of his size). He is short and fast."

Obviously, the Kentucky coaches recruited him to play. They were about Beach's consistency as well as his hesitancy to run hard inside. They don't know if Bwenge can survive a whole season physically or take the pressure of being UK's No. 1 runner. Monquantae Gibson, a redshirt freshman, could compete for playing time but he was far behind Bwenge and Beach in spring drills.

Davis could give Kentucky a home-run hitter, a back who could break the big runs offensive coordinator Ron Hudson wants.

"Playing time is wide open," Davis said. "I was here all summer working out and trying to learn the offense. I'm very hopeful to get some playing time. This is a great opportunity for me to play in the SEC and help a team win."

Davis is charming and confident. But he's not arrogant or selfish. He's used to being told he's too short to play, but knows that's nothing he can't overcome. However, he also seems more than willing to share playing time with Bwenge and/or Beach if that will make the Wildcats better.

"If we have a fresh back in the game, especially with the way we all offer a change of pace to the defense, it should make our offense better," Davis said. "We have a wide-open, exciting offense. I just hope I can be a big part of it."

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