|Tigers' "Thunder" takes over leadership role at Clemson|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 14 November 2007 11:48|
For running back James Davis, Tiger success is no longer measured in yards and touchdown runs.
``That was my goal coming in,'' said Davis, the ``Thunder'' part of Clemson's ``Thunder and Lightning'' backfield. ``I just tried to get my guys focused on getting to the ACC championship game.''
The 15th-ranked Tigers (8-2, 5-2) are nearly there. They face No. 18 Boston College (8-2, 4-2) Saturday at Death Valley, the winner earning the Atlantic Division's spot in next month's title game.
You can bet Davis will have some stunt to fire up his teammates.
A former youth team mascot, Davis did a cartwheel onto the field to start summer practice. After Clemson's 4-0 start dissolved with consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, Davis helped teammates stay positive through the bye week. And when asked by reporters if he could guarantee Clemson would win a difficult road game at Maryland last month, Davis did so.
``I had it in my mind. I was kind of thinking it and it just came out,'' Davis said, smiling.
Davis remembers sweating on the bus to the stadium. He didn't need to worry as the Tigers rolled to a 30-17 win. Davis was a big reason why with 129 yards and a touchdown.
``He wants the team on his shoulders,'' said C.J. ``Lightning'' Spiller. ``He wants to be the guy everybody knows.''
Spiller was surprised that Davis would guarantee a victory over Maryland, but says his performance let the Tigers know he ``was going to play the best he could play and would back up'' those words.
Davis became a star last fall, gaining 1,187 yards - Clemson's first 1,000-yard tailback in a decade - and tying the school mark with 17 rushing TDs. The majority of those came during the Tigers' 7-1 start. Davis stumbled home and the Tigers lost four of their final five games.
Davis had the numbers. He wanted team success, though, and decided it would take more than his power runs to do that.
This season, Davis has ceded several of the flashier, highlight-reel runs to his backfield mate, Spiller. Davis' 860 yards are second in the ACC to Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice. Where Davis has elevated his game has been in the locker room.
Clemson's offense has four senior starters, but none are very vocal, coach Tommy Bowden said.
So Davis took up the role of inspirational leader after watching former Tigers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and ex-linemen Dustin Fry and Nathan Bennett his first two years.
Davis remembers Whitehurst's confidence, no matter the situation. ``He was just the guy that everybody on the team looked up to,'' Davis said. ``I wanted to be that guy.''
Before each Friday night gathering, Davis will jot down themes or ideas to tell the players. He told the team last week that if Clemson plays the way it can, the game with Wake Forest did not have to be tight. The Tigers heard Davis loud and clear in a 44-10 victory over the defending ACC champions.
``You want the guys dreaming about the game and what they can do,'' Davis said.
The junior's remarks are essential ``because some guys respond to vocal encouragement,'' Bowden said.
Davis keeps encouraging players during games. He told Clemson receiver Aaron Kelly last week it was his time to outshine Wake Forest's Kenneth Moore, the ACC's leading receiver. Kelly had 10 catches, which doubled Moore's total.
This week, Davis has focused on Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper as Boston College's Heisman Trophy hopeful Matt Ryan comes to Death Valley on Saturday. ``This is your chance for them to talk about you,'' Davis said to Harper.
A win over Boston College would give Davis an additional game and a chance to match last year's rushing total. But he wants a championship even more.
It's a contrast to the frustrated freshman who briefly left fall camp two seasons ago when things weren't going so smoothly. Davis, 21, said he has grown to see what's truly important.
``You've got to follow before you can lead,'' he said.
Sounds like Davis has learned that lesson well.