COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina tailback Mike Davis felt last year he was falling behind SEC runners like Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and the Georgia duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Well, these days, it's Davis out front — leading not only the guys in rushing that he entered the Southeastern Conference, but the entire league.
The sophomore has 1,058 yards, becoming just the eighth player in Gamecocks' history to surpass the 1,000-yard mark. Davis was a backed up South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore as a freshman and struggled to find carries after Lattimore was lost for the season with a knee injury. Meanwhile, Georgia's "Gur-Shall" and the Crimson Tide's Yeldon were stealing the SEC headlines.
"I came out and just wanted to establish myself, (saying) 'Hey, I'm still here,'" Davis said.
Davis has made others outside the SEC take notice, too. He's 12th in the country with only two other underclassmen in fellow sophomores Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Kapri Bibbs of Colorado State in the group ahead of him.
"I'm aware that I'm the SEC's leading rusher," Davis says. "I take a lot of pride in that."
Davis understands he'll have some work ahead to stay out front when the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 SEC) close out league play at home against Florida (4-5, 3-4). Despite the Gators four-game losing streak, they remain second in the SEC against the rush, yielding only 109.7 yards a carry.
Davis usually accounts for that much in a game. He's had seven contests with 100 or more this season. In the two games Davis fell short in wins over Vanderbilt and Missouri, he had his most productive receiving games: Davis was second on the team with 67 yards receiving against the Commodores and had 10 grabs for 99 yards at Missouri.
"Mike's a great back," South Carolina right guard Ronald Patrick said. "He can make you look better than what you really are."
And now, he's gaining as many accolades for his play as 1,00-yard rusher Gurley and national champion Yeldon.
Davis twice rushed for over 1,000 yards at Stephenson High in Stone Mountain, Ga., and had originally committed to Florida before eventually signing with the Gamecocks.
The choice quickly set up a brother-vs.-brother rivalry as his older sibling James Davis was a two-time, 1,000-yard rusher during his career at Clemson from 2005-08. But Mike Davis says his older brother was supportive throughout the recruiting process, even when he turned down a scholarship offer from the Tigers.
Florida coach Will Muschamp was also disappointed in Davis's choice, but wished him well and is ready to gameplan against the highly effective back.
"I mean everybody makes their decisions on what they want to do, and Mike felt like South Carolina was a better opportunity for him" than Florida, Muschamp said.
James Davis talks with Mike about every day and attends several of his brother's games to pull for his younger brother.
"My brother's always wearing orange," Mike Davis said. "I don't know why."
Davis outplayed redshirt sophomore Brandon Wilds during preseason camp to take over for Lattimore as the Gamecocks top tailbacks. While Davis, at 5-foot-9, 215 pounds, was always considered a strong runner, he hadn't shown the difference making speed exhibited by the top SEC backs until this season.
He struck for a 75-yard run in the season-opener against North Carolina. Davis out-dueled Gurley a week later, the South Carolina back getting a career high 149 yards to Gurley's 132. The Georgia game included another 75-yard run, although the Gamecocks fell 41-30.
Davis has kept it going ever since. His versatility showed in the third quarter of a 34-16 win against Mississippi State on Nov. 2 when he rushed for 43 yards on one snap, then caught a 30-yard pass from Connor Shaw to set the Gamecocks up with a 1st-and-goal.
When asked after the game if he hoped to break Lattimore's high of 1,197 yards gained in 2010, Davis confidently said, "Of course, I'm going to go at it."
Don't be misled, James Davis says. His brother has a strong belief in what he can achieve, but is not arrogant in chasing those goals. "He's a humble guy and he knows what he wants to do," the elder Davis said. "He's Mike Davis. He's making a name for himself in college football."
Davis may have even a higher profile next fall.