Marcus Davis makes some moves for the University of B.C. Thunderbirds against the University of Alberta Golden Bears at Thunderbird Stadium in 2015. Bob Frid/ PNG
Marcus Davis is looking forward to some end-zone dancing as he enters the biggest stage of his football career: his draft-eligible season with the UBC Thunderbirds.
“I can dance a little bit,” laughed the 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver. “I haven’t tried twerking, though; and I don’t think I will either.”
With any player whose dreams include playing pro football, the draft year is one that comes with huge pressure to perform. CFL scouts will be watching, dissecting plays and assessing effort level, checking statistics and interviewing coaches and teammates.
For Davis, he has the added stress of proving he’s fully recovered from the ACL tear he suffered that cost him most of last season. It was only five games into last season, when he blew out his left knee, ending his campaign. Despite the injury, he still finished as the team’s No. 4 receiver with 30 catches for 310 yards and a touchdown.
Now he’s setting his sights on making the step to the next level, where his brother — UBC alum Terrell Davis — awaits already, having made the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ roster as a linebacker in 2016.
“There’s always going to be pressure for sure, and especially coming off an injury. But mentally, I’ve always wanted to be in the position I’m in right now,” said Davis, who spent the summer rotating between his trainer, the physiotherapy office and the pool as he rehabbed his knee.
“It’s been a long journey, it’s been a long road. The mental part (of rehab), I’d say it’s been about 90 per cent of it. It just takes a lot of preparation and wanting to get back to where you were before. It takes dedication just to get there, and just wanting to get up and rehab every day.”
UBC Thunderbirds receiver Marcus Davis rehabs his injured knee, as he eyes his CFL draft season.
RICH LAM / PNG
Davis’s electric speed and playmaking ability will be key for the Thunderbirds this season, as they try to rebound from a 3-5 regular season that ultimately culminated in a playoff berth and a 40-34 first-round win over the No. 1-ranked University of Regina Rams. The Calgary Dinos ended the T-Birds’ season with a 46-43 victory in the Hardy Cup.
“Marcus Davis is one of the most-talented players I’ve had the opportunity to play with. He’s a difference-maker,” said UBC coach Blake Nill. “Losing him last year to that injury really hurt us. He’s worked unbelievably hard to get back, to get back in shape, to get back to the level of athleticism that he had.
“Marcus knows what’s at stake. It’s his draft year, there’s no question he wants to play at the next level. He has the reputation, he has the genetics, the speed, he just has to prove to the scouts and everyone else that he’s over this injury.”
Davis’s attitude is the kind Nill is trying to instil in the rest of his players. Nill will be relying on the third-year player to provide some veteran leadership, something the coach felt was missing last season and a big part of their losing regular-season record. UBC lost five players to the CFL and four to graduation from the previous season, leaving some gaping holes in their lineup.
“When I talk about lack of leadership, it’s just that we’re a young program,” said Nill. “What happened, is after the Vanier Cup year, they skimmed about nine impact players off our program. Either graduated or went to the pros. We just did not have the experience to fill in the leadership voids that we had.
“We have some guys who will step up and be more accountable in that leadership role. We’ve had three solid recruiting classes, we’re going to be a good football program this year. We’re going to make some noise. We’re going to have to work for every game we have, but the bottom line is I think we have the right kind of athletes in the program, and the right mindsets.”
The character he’s hoping for showed up in the post-season last fall.
The ‘Birds had a chance to make the playoffs on their own merit in their season finale against Calgary, but lost a 41-35 heartbreaker in overtime, a game they had their opportunities to win.
UBC backed into the playoffs when the Manitoba Bisons also lost that day, meaning the T-Birds had earned a date with the top-ranked Regina Rams. The young team put the crushing loss to Calgary behind them, taking down the conference champs on the road to get a shot at the Dinos again in the Cup.
The Thunderbirds open the regular season Sept. 1 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina (6 p.m.) against the Rams, but Week 5 will be a date they’re also going to circle on the calendar, as the Dinos visit UBC on Sept. 29 (6:30 p.m.).
“That Calgary game mid-season is going to be emotional,” said Nill. “We’ve got to be ready to take the next step and say, ‘You know what, we’re the team that everyone’s gunning for.’ We have to be prepared to back that statement up.”