Ricky Davis seems to be receiving mixed signals about his status as a UCLA tailback.
After starting the first three games of the season, and rotating with Shawn Wills and Kevin Williams, he virtually dropped out of sight.
He didn’t play in the fourth game against California, was used for only a a few plays against Arizona, then missed the fifth game against Oregon State because of a hamstring injury.
Then when UCLA needed him the most, with Wills and Williams unable to play against Arizona State last Saturday at Tempe, Ariz., because of injuries, Davis responded.
He gained 124 yards in 26 carries and scored on a short run. Moreover, after getting sick late in the game, he returned and made a 19-yard run in the closing minutes, while the Bruins were running out the clock in a 21-16 victory.
So, has Davis’ status been enhanced?
“You may never see me again,” he said, smiling.
Davis, a redshirt sophomore, is seemingly confused about his place on the team and the reasons given for his reduced activity until circumstances enabled him to play extensively against Arizona State.
“I never had a chance to lose the position; I just got shuffled aside,” Davis said.
“I feel the position was kind of taken from me. (The coaches) said I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I was the smallest guy of the tailbacks, and they wanted a bigger guy in there.”
Davis stands 5 feet 9 and weighs 180 pounds. Actually, he’s taller than former USC tailback Ricky Ervins, now a key player with the unbeaten Washington Redskins, and at least as tall as former Trojan tailback Anthony Davis.
“What has been holding him back is that he hasn’t had a lot of long runs,” UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said.
His longest has been for 20 yards, against Arizona State in the third quarter. His average of 4.8 yards a carry is behind Williams’ 6.7 and Wills’ 6.3. However, Williams and Wills had the advantage of playing against Arizona and Oregon State, teams that were clearly outclassed by the Bruins.
Davis said he was also told by backfield coach Wayne Moses that Wills, a senior, and Williams, a junior, are more experienced.
So Davis has been given several reasons why he lost his starting job after the first three games.
“But I was the one who made it through spring football and through two-a-day practices (in the fall),” Davis said. “They said they wanted someone durable who they could depend upon, and I thought it was myself.”
Williams was hurt during spring drills, and Wills split time between football and baseball.
Nonetheless, the bottom line is that UCLA has three productive tailbacks, and there isn’t enough playing time to satisfy all of them.
Davis, who grew up in Texas but played football at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Md., said his size has never been a deterrent.
He rushed for 2,005 yards and scored 38 touchdowns during his prep career. He also excelled in track, setting a school record of 21.8 seconds in the 200 meters.
Davis said he was recruited by several other major schools, including Syracuse, Tennessee, Penn State, Auburn and Georgia Tech. “The only school that really brought up anything about my size was UCLA,” he said.
Even though he said he was disturbed that UCLA had mentioned his size, Davis believed that the school was the best place for him in the long run.
He didn’t play as a freshman in 1989 but achieved some distinction by winning the Charles Pike Award as the outstanding player on the scout team. Then in 1990, he was stunned when he was moved to wide receiver.
“At that point, I just wanted to get onto the field, but I still didn’t see any playing time,” Davis said.
Davis said he wasn’t comfortable as a wide receiver but didn’t have any problem catching the ball.
If Davis had any regrets about choosing UCLA, his father, Maurice Davis, gave him moral support. “He made sure that I knew that I’m still a good athlete, no matter what,” Davis said, “and that I was as good as anybody (UCLA) had, regardless of my size.
“I don’t look at people being so much bigger than me. I’m average size. It’s no problem.”
Davis said Ricky is only a nickname given to him by his grandfather. His given name is Dachary Duane Davis. “I don’t know where my mother came up with that,” he said.
Even though Donahue praised Davis’ come-through performance against Arizona State and called him “a tough little nut,” he will not be promoted to first string.
“I think Ricky Davis is part of our tailback corps and he needs to function and serve the team, which he did brilliantly Saturday,” Donahue said.
So that’s the situation, and when Davis was asked what he could do about it, he smiled and said: “Just go out and rush for 120-some yards.”