SMSU FOOTBALL: A perfect fit

Daniel Davis is making his impact known across NSIC secondaries everywhere

Independent file photo SMSU’s Daniel Davis hauls in a pass for a touchdown during their Sept. 22 game against the University of Upper Iowa. Since coming to SMSU right before the season started, Davis has made a big impact on the Mustangs offense, including catching four touchdowns in last week’s win over the University of Minnesota Crookston.

MARSHALL - From the palm trees and oceanside beaches of Tarpon Springs, Florida to small town living in Marshall on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University, the game of football has taken wide receiver Daniel Davis across the nation in search of the right opportunity to showcase his talents. If last week’s four-touchdown performance (tied for a program record) and subsequent NSIC Player of the Week honors was any indication, it appears that Davis has found the right spot.

A late arrival of sorts to the campus of SMSU, Davis found his way to Marshall after a successful two-year JUCO career at Garden City College in Garden City, Kansas. Following his sophomore campaign as a Broncbuster, Davis arrived at the campus of Division II Valdosta State in Georgia nearing the start of fall camp. Fortunately for Mustang fans, Davis decided to make a last-second switch to head north to Southwest Minnesota, where he would be reunited with some familiar faces in former Garden City College coaching staff members Daniel McKinney and Jason Zerbach, who currently serve as the wide receivers coach and Director of Sports Performance, respectively.

According to Mustangs head coach Cory Sauter, the connections built with the two current coaches played a large role in Davis deciding to make the switch.

“Any time you can have a connection, a prior relationship, those go a long ways,” said Sauter. “In fact, if coach McKinney and coach Zerbach aren’t here, there’s a good chance we don’t get Daniel Davis to Southwest Minnesota State. There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but ultimately I think players make decisions based on people and he certainly felt comfortable here; he trusted our staff.”

In addition to the personal connections already built within the program, Davis was intrigued by the up-tempo offense employed by SMSU.

“What made me switch was the offense they run,” said Davis. “It’s a spread offense, (a) high- tempo offense, hurry-up, and I felt like I fit in good in the situation.”

The explosive style of offense has suited Davis well in his first year as a Mustang, and has played a large role in reversing the fortunes of an offense that was in desperate need of a spark following an 0-2 start to the season. In the four weeks that have followed, the Mustangs have gone 3-1 and have seen a meteoric rise in production through the air – going from 208 yards per game to over 297. During that span, Davis has averaged 114 yards receiving and two touchdowns, and has become a go-to target for quarterback Blake Gimbel.

When asked to identify what has been the key to the on-field success and the chemistry that has been built with Gimbel, Davis summed it up in one word.

“Timing,” said Davis. “Timing is everything. Running the right routes (with) perfect timing (and) the steps, the depth, everything.”

Running routes and making big plays as a pass catcher only tells half the story for Davis, as the Florida native has also been a key contributor on special teams as an electrifying punt returner, averaging 15.7 yards per return with a long of 47 yards coming against the University of Sioux Falls.

According to Davis, taking on the role of punt returner is something that he draws a lot of pride in given the fact that not everybody can do it a high level.

“I do enjoy taking on that role, because not everybody can play punt returner,” said Davis. “You can’t let the ball hit the ground too many times, you have to catch everything and be ready to sacrifice things.”

Heading into a pivotal matchup with nationally ranked No. 6 University of Minnesota Duluth, the Mustangs will look for Davis to continue to make big plays in the punt return game – and perhaps even more importantly – in the passing game with the Mustangs facing what might be their toughest challenge yet. Through six games, the Bulldogs are ranked atop the NSIC in pass defense and will undoubtedly be looking to put an end to Davis’ spree of destruction against NSIC secondaries.

Sauter believes that Davis and the rest of the team are looking forward to the challenge they will face on Saturday.

“That’s why you get in to college football, is to challenge yourself and stack yourself up against the best,” said Sauter. “It is certainly something that not only Daniel Davis, but really everybody in the program is very anxious to go play against a high caliber team. Really, arguably, one of the best teams in the country, and so it’ll be a good measuring stick for us to see where we sit. I know our kids are really excited about just going and playing a football game.”