Davis making big impact for Dukes

JMU's Rashard Davis catches a pass for a touchdown as his foot connects with Richmond's Brendan Coniker during their game on Nov. 5. Davis has returned three punts for touchdowns this season. AP file

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University senior wide receiver Rashard Davis had an impact on JMU’s win over the University of Richmond earlier this season without even touching the ball.

The Spiders punted the ball out of bounds as they were trying to avoid punting the ball to Davis.

“Against Richmond I thought it changed the game the way they were trying to kick away from him, and really gave us some great field position several times,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said after Tuesday’s practice. “So he affects the game not only when he touches the ball, but in other ways with people trying to keep the ball away from him.”

Once the ball is in his hands he’s a threat to score every time. Davis was named the Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Year earlier this week, and leads the Football Championship Subdivision with three punt return touchdowns.

JMU junior quarterback Bryan Schor said it’s fun watching Davis.

“I think when you think about Rashard the word dynamic just comes up,” Schor said. “Get him the ball in space and just watch out, because he’s going to be a problem for anybody. And if the ball gets kicked to him I think opponents need to hold their breath, because he’s a really good player and you have to be careful when you’re playing against him.”

Davis said he played special teams a little bit in high school at Charlottesville High School in his junior season. He said in his senior season he was moved to quarterback on offense, and didn’t play special teams.

Once he came to JMU he returned punts some his sophomore season until an injury sidelined him. Last year he didn’t play on special teams but this past spring, with a new coaching staff, he started returning punts again and it has paid big dividends for the team.

Davis had a punt return for a touchdown in each of his first two games of the season. He capped off the season with his third touchdown in last week’s victory over Elon University.

Davis said much of the credit goes to his special teams teammates.

“It’s really easy for me,” Davis said. “I really just got to catch the ball and just read my blocks because my teammates are doing all the hard work, blocking the big guys out there.”

Davis has nine punt returns this season for 287 yards, 31.9 yards per return.

The 5-foot-9 senior said redshirt sophomore Jimmy Moreland has helped him a lot on his touchdowns.

“I just try to look for any green grass,” Davis said. “I follow the return and most of the time I’m looking for Jimmy Moreland, honestly. He leads me to the touchdown every time.”

Houston said one of Davis’ biggest assets, whether returning punts or at wide receiver, is his speed.

“You’d have a hard time playing tag with him in a phone booth. He is so quick and so electric,” Houston said. “He’s a hard worker. Certainly he is extremely gifted, but he’s not the biggest guy in the world. But he’s a tough guy. He’s a team guy. You will never (hear) him talk about stats or me or I need the ball or anything like that. He just wants to do whatever he can to help our team be the best that it can be.”

Davis has 31 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns as a wide receiver.

The Dukes have a lot of depth at wide receiver with seven different wide receivers and three tight ends having at least one catch this year.

“It’s special,” Davis said of the receivers. “That (wide receiver) room is special. A lot of people that love each other, that can play around with each other, but be serious at the same time. The talent in there is so crazy. We’re so deep in there with talent. Honestly the receiving core that we have, a lot of people could go start on different teams and be that standout guy. The room is so deep and we have to split the ball up so much. There’s no selfishness in there, and we all know that we can all go out and be that guy with the touchdowns this game or be that guy with the yards this game.”

The Dukes have a first-round bye this week in the FCS playoffs. They are the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and will host either Lehigh University or University of New Hampshire in the second round at 2 p.m. on Dec. 3.

Davis said he’s aware that this is his final postseason of college football, but he’s trying to stay focused on the team and playing one game at a time.

“It’s coming to an end, but I’m trying to not think about that,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to keep playing as a long as I can, keep going, so we can go all the way.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com.