COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina tailback Mike Davis knows the NFL is on the horizon. First, though, is the chance to improve on one of the best rushing seasons in Gamecock history.
"In order for me to leave, I have to have a great year so, of course, I'm focusing more on this year ahead," Davis said Sunday. "If I have that chance to leave, I will go."
And likely become the latest in a strong run of junior talent to give up their senior years at South Carolina for the pros. There was Buffalo Bills' cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery and, just last May, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the NFL's No. 1 overall selection by the Houston Texans.
Davis already has a resume to make pro scouts drool with a combination of speed and power, at 223 pounds, that he used to gain 1,183 yards rushing last season — the fourth best single-season at South Carolina.
The only Gamecock runners Davis trails? Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, who had rushing years of 1,894 yards and 1,681 yards, and former teammate Marcus Lattimore, who gained 1,197 yards.
"I didn't even know that until you just told me, so obviously I wasn't keeping up with my yardage," he said. "I'm just concerned with us winning and my teammates do a good job."
Davis looked like one of the best rushers in the Southeastern Conference through the first nine games, posting seven performances with at least 100 yards and seeing his name among the more prominent league backs like Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Georgia's Todd Gurley.
Injuries, though, wore Davis down and he gained just 125 yards combined in South Carolina's final four games. Still, he was instrumental in helping the Gamecocks finish 11-2 for the third straight season.
Davis was slowed down by ankle and rib problems. He could've sat out more than one game — he missed South Carolina's 70-10 victory over Football Championship Subdivision opponent Coastal Carolina — but wanted to show his teammates that he was not going to quit on them simply because he was banged up. "I think that's important," he said.
Davis said he thinks about what he must do this year to take another step forward among college football's best runners. "But I really can't control that," he said. "Hopefully, I can be a good teammate. If we keep winning, I don't really care too much about my stats."
Davis got a chuckle last week when South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier talked how he'd encourage his tailback to leave for the NFL if the circumstances were right. Spurrier believes the shelf life for pro running backs can be short and he doesn't want to delay a talented player like Davis for a minute more than the rules allow.
"We're going to shake his hand and let him go," Spurrier said. "That's why you keep on recruiting more running backs."
The Gamecocks might need them, too.
Davis tweaked a hamstring in offseason workouts and hasn't practiced full out since camp started Friday night. The Gamecocks hope to give runners Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and David Williams more carries this year, something Davis isn't crazy about.
"I don't too much care for it, but whatever coach Spurrier wants," Davis said.
Davis understands the importance of this season to his future — and the chancy nature of a long career in the NFL. His older brother James Davis had two 1,000-yard seasons as Clemson's top running, yet struggled to make an impact due to injuries in his brief NFL time with Cleveland and Washington.
The younger Davis plans to go full out, as always, this season to cap his college career. "I just want to show my teammates that I'll lay my body down on the line," he said.