The best local football player you’ve never seen (or heard of) is Josh Davis.
Davis is a redshirt freshman running back at Weber State, and he’s tormenting FCS defenses the same way he tortured Alta High opponents for years. He has made Weber State’s offense pretty simple at times — just give the ball to Davis.
In last week’s 31-18 road win over Southern Utah, Davis carried the ball on 36 of the Wildcats’ 68 plays and finished with 225 yards and two touchdowns. In a 45-28 win over Northern Colorado, he carried the ball on 30 of the Wildcats’ 67 plays and finished with 218 yards and two touchdowns.
This season he has rushed for 1,160 yards and eight touchdowns on 197 carries in nine games (he missed the opener against Utah with a shoulder injury). He’s averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 128.9 yards per game — which ranks fifth in the nation. He’s produced touchdown runs of 44, 29, 25, 45, 95 and 60 yards. That doesn’t include a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown. He also has 21 pass receptions for 163 yards and 1,547 all-purpose yards — or 171.9 yards per game, which ranks second in the country.
Not bad for a kid who started the season playing behind senior Treshawn Garrett, Weber’s leading rusher a year ago. Garrett was injured in the first game and then shared the job with Davis when he returned, only to be reinjured. Meanwhile, Davis has made the most of more playing time, although he is quick to deflect praise.
“I mean, without the line and receivers blocking, running backs wouldn’t be anything,” he says.
Davis is reluctant to be singled out for his exploits, but it’s happening anyway. He has been named to the watch list for the Jerry Rice Award, which honors the nation's top freshman. He also has been honored as the National Freshman of the Week twice this season.
"He's had an incredible freshman year and he has a very, very bright future," says Weber coach Jay Hill. “In the game at Southern Utah, he was an absolute warrior, running and catching the ball and breaking a bunch of tackles. He's had to carry a huge load for us due to some injuries and we've upped his number of carries but he's handled it like a warrior."
Davis has been a big factor in what might prove to be the best season in school history. The Wildcats are 8-2, including a loss to Utah of the Pac-12, and are ranked third nationally in the national FCS poll heading into the regular-season finale at Idaho State. They might even top last year’s team, which won 11 games, including two in the national FCS playoffs. Davis redshirted the 2017 season after pulling a hamstring in the opener, just minutes after making a 46-yard kickoff return.
Davis is 5 foot 9, 195 pounds. He’s got good speed, but great acceleration, cutting ability, vision and power. As Weber quarterback Jake Constantine told the Ogden Standard Examiner, “He runs hard. He trucks kids probably 180 pounds heavier than him ... it’s key to have him on our team.”
Davis was a juggernaut at Alta High who produced video-game numbers. He set the state record with 3,836 all-purpose yards during his senior year and was selected as the Utah Gatorade Player of the Year. That year he also rushed for 2,645 yards — second most in state history — and 28 TDs. His high school career totals: 622 carries, 5,289 yards (third most in state history), 56 TDs.
His high school performance had all the markings of a top FBS recruit, and yet there were few takers. The military academies wanted Davis, who sported a 3.9 high school grade point average. Idaho and Weber State of the Big Sky wanted him. Cal-Berkeley and USC invited him as a preferred walk-on, something Utah, BYU and Utah State did not offer.
It’s tempting to blame the disinterest on Davis’ 5-foot-9 height – “(Recruiters) didn’t say that, but we all know that’s what it was,” says Davis’ father, Christian. Or was it? Of the top 10 running backs in the country, one is 5-11, three are 5-10, five are 5-9 and one is 5-6.
“I was told by two or three schools that if I was a black running back I would get offered (a scholarship)” says Davis. Christian says he was told that college coaches said the same thing when they showed up at Alta.
All of the aforementioned national rushing leaders who are roughly Davis’ size are black.
“It is what it is,” says Davis. “I’m happy where I am now.”
Says Hill, "We've known about Josh and really liked him for a long time, and two years ago he was one of our top recruits out of high school. We were super happy to get him.”
Maybe it was Davis’ boyish looks that turned off recruiters. In street clothes he could pass for 14. A uniform reveals fire-hydrant quads and ripped biceps. As one official told him on the sideline of last week’s game against SUU, “From the neck down, you’re a man, but your face — you’re a kid.”
Davis grew up in Draper, one of Christian and Nicole’s two children. Both Josh and his sister Sydney were good high school track athletes who qualified for the state track finals. Josh Davis competed in Taekwondo, the Korean martial art, which emphasizes kicks.5 comments on this story
Christian believes it developed much of his son’s confidence, coordination and strength. Josh was not quite 7 when he defeated a Korean rival in the finals of the world championships held in Las Vegas in 2005. He competed for a few more years before focusing more on track and football.
“He used to go up to his room and watch reruns of old NFL games,” says Christian. “Especially LaDainian Tomlinson. Then he’d go out in the yard in mimic him. And then he would do it in little league games.”
Now he seems to be mimicking his hero in the college game with more video-game numbers. Not that he’s counting. “I’m not looking at stats,” he says. “I’m looking at wins.”