New Pitt RB Derrick Davis Jr. Has His Eyes on the Prize Now That He’s Home
LSU had two scholarship running backs ready to go against UAB after a hard-fought 13-10 win over Arkansas, so running backs coach Frank Wilson went to the boss.
He went to head coach Brian Kelly to ask if Derrick Davis could make the switch from defensive back to running back, and Kelly said as long as Davis was okay with it, he was okay with it, too.
So, Davis — who thrived as the star running back at Gateway High in Monroeville, Pennsylvania — started to take reps at running back. He got his first taste of action against UAB, racking up 28 yards on just five carries.
But he wasn’t sure what the future held. He didn’t get a carry against Texas A&M in the regular season finale, so the Citrus Bowl was a big deal on a personal level.
“(My position) honestly all depended upon how I did in the bowl game,” Davis said last month. “I scored in the bowl game, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m just gonna stick to running back.’ I knew Pitt was losing their main running back, so I made the decision to commit and hopefully do big things here at running back.”
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Davis committed to Pitt on Jan. 10, after just under a month in the transfer portal. He thought about other schools initially, but the pitch from head coach Pat Narduzzi and Pitt — the chance to go home — was too much to pass up.
“I wouldn’t say it was quick, it kinda took some time, but once I was in contact with Narduzzi, I just had them on the top of my list because it’s home, and why not come back home?”
Narduzzi’s pitch, by the way? Come home and be the next Israel Abanikanda.
There’s a history of successful running backs at Pitt that predates Abanikanda himself by decades and decades of work. And with players like Tony Dorsett, ‘Ironhead’ Heyward, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy and James Conner, Davis is well aware of the history. That success isn’t lost upon him.
“A lot of great guys have come from Pitt playing running back,” Davis said. “And why not play in the city where I have a lot of support and a lot of fans rooting for me?”
Davis decided on Pitt over schools like North Carolina State and South Carolina, among other schools, but he decided that Pitt was where he needed to be. It’s home.
Of course, Davis’ mother is very happy to have her son come back home, but the support runs deeper than even just the Davis family. As a hometown kid from Monroeville, he has the support of the city behind him. His play is familiar, too.
Davis was ultra-productive at Gateway, especially during his junior season as he led the Tigers to a WPIAL Class-5A title. He ran for 1,507 yards, added 547 more yards through the air and racked up 28 touchdowns on the way to Heinz Field.
He missed time as a senior, but he still racked up nearly 1,000 yards and 11 scores.
Pitt recruited Davis heavily out of high school, serving as his first offer and a program that made it into his final five, and he still feels like it’s the same program it was then.
“The coaches, the staff, they show the same love they were showing to me in high school, and I really love the university and the staff,” Davis said. “They kept it 100 with me, and I kept it 100 with them. We just collaborated very well, like PB&J.”
Davis watched Pitt stars like Aaron Donald and James Conner as a kid — and LeSean McCoy a bit further back — and felt nothing but inspiration. An inspiration to reach the level that they did. Now it’s possible to do it at home.
“It just goes to show that we have talent in this city, and a lot of people look past it, but now you get to see it on live television,” Davis said. “So, I can’t wait to see it on the field, honestly.”
Even while Davis spent time in Baton Rouge with the Tigers, he was able to see Pitt’s rise on television. He watched as Narduzzi turned the program toward success, reaching it with an ACC championship in 2021, and that wasn’t lost on Davis either.
“For me to see that firsthand, I was like, ‘Okay, Pitt has something,'” Davis said.
It may have taken a second chance for Davis to make it back to Pittsburgh, to get his chance to at an ACC title with Pitt, but his journey was necessary. He needed to get away, to experience football at the SEC level and test himself on his own, to be able to grow as a man — and a football player.
He was able to mature in all aspects of his life. It was the learning experience he needed. Despite limited reps as a running back, Davis feels comfortable in the backfield. He feels like it’s an easy transition. And he’s excited to work with Hammond.
“(Hammond’s a) really good guy,” Davis said. “Watched his film, great runner, hard runner, and we’re gonna make some great things happen back there.”
In fact, Davis sees a lot of talent and a lot of speed across Pitt’s offense as a whole, not just with the running backs in the room. But that doesn’t mean he won’t keep his head down and grind, nonetheless.
With just 11 carries to his name at the college level, racking up 57 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown, he’s not exactly a proven runner. But he is a natural, easy runner in a 6-foot, 210-pound frame. And he’s determined to come in and work.
Because there’s one goal in 2023: an ACC Championship.