LOGAN — Considering that Jalen Davis had received just one offer from a Division I football team, and that team was going to open the season on the road against an SEC team with a storied history, no one could blame Verdis and Dana Davis for not anticipating a need to travel from Southern California to Tennessee to see their true freshman son play in front of 102,000 people at Neyland Stadium.
“I remember calling his dad the third week of August and saying, ‘Verdis, you need to buy a plane ticket to Knoxville,’” Utah State head coach Matt Wells says. “And he said, ‘Is he going to play?’
“I said, ‘Yeah. The first snap.’”
That was 2014. Sometime Friday evening in Tucson, Arizona, Jalen Davis will play his final snap as an Aggie at the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
And while it is difficult to make a definitive statement that the 5-foot-10, 185-pound cornerback from La Mesa, California, is the best Aggie defensive back of all time, Davis certainly has garnered enough awards and impressive statistics to make that argument.
Prior to playing his final collegiate game against New Mexico State, Davis already holds the school record for pass breakups with 35 — nine more than former USU leader Donald Toomer (1991-94). Davis, who was a first-team, All-Mountain West selection this season, has 13 pass breakups this season, along with five interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns.
The cornerback’s four quarterback sacks also leads the Aggies this year, and Davis is second on the team in TFLs with five.
Davis was named the National Player of the Week by CBSSports.com after leading Utah State to a 40-24 victory over BYU on Sept. 29 by picking off three Cougar passes and returning two of them for touchdowns.
More recently, Davis was named a second-team, All-American by both the Associated Press and the Football Writers Association of America. And most notably, it was announced on Dec. 7 that Davis had been selected as a first-team All-American cornerback by the Walter Camp Football Foundation — only the ninth time an Aggie has been so honored, and the first since kick returner Kevin Robinson in 2007.
“I remember texting his dad in the middle of the (College Football Awards Show) in Atlanta,” Wells says. “Jalen wasn’t there, but when they honored the Walter Camp All-American team, it was really cool because you see four first-team DBs up there. And it’s Alabama, it’s Texas, it’s Iowa and then it’s Utah State. That’s the only one they audibly talked about and highlighted up there.
“I’m texting his dad, just telling him how proud I was, and he says back to me, ‘I’m just glad he’s graduating in May. You kept your promise.’ Those are things you don’t forget as coaches. I have great memories of Jalen.”
Despite all the accolades coming his way of late, Davis says his life has “been the same.”
“Just more people saying, ‘Good job,’ basically,” he insists. “More people coming out and saying good job all over social media. That’s basically the difference.”
While he’s not afraid to do some talking on the field, getting Davis to talk, it should be noted, is like pulling teeth. But fortunately, those teeth are almost always visible. Davis’ trademark smile seemingly acted as a beacon of hope for the Aggies last offseason as they tried to bounce back from a woeful, 3-9 campaign in 2016.
Davis, who has added nearly 30 pounds of muscles during his four years at Utah State, proclaimed at the beginning of fall camp that the Aggies would rebound this season, and put a lot of pressure on himself to help lead the charge in 2017.
“After last year, I’m not going out like that,” Davis declared in early August. “I’m not going to have any of that be tolerated. I’m going to be All-Mountain West. I will be. That’s how I’m going to help my team out.”
Although he didn’t mention it at the time, Davis also had his eye on being named an All-American defensive back, something that he credits his position coach Julius Brown with helping him achieve.
“I’m just blessed that Utah State gave me the opportunity to come here, but I always knew what I was capable of and what I can do on the football field,” Davis says. “That’s all I needed was a chance to show my abilities, and Utah State gave me that chance.”
Friday in Tucson, Davis will get another chance to finally win a bowl game. The Aggies lost to Akron his sophomore year in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and after a stellar freshman year in 2014, Davis missed out on USU’s 21-6 win over UTEP in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl due to a turf toe injury.
“That was the first time he missed a game, and I remember how bad it hurt him,” Wells recalls. “I remember seeing his emotions. The guy doesn’t miss practice. He doesn’t miss games. He’s tough. And he’s a football junkie. He watches so much tape in there.
“I mean, the guy didn’t even get voted preseason All-Mountain West. … But he used that as internal motivation, so he goes from not even being preseason to being first-team All-American. Credit to him.”
Wells also gives some credit to USU strength coach Dave Schulz for helping Davis “make his body right, eat right and sleep right.” Wells also says he’s never had one issue with his standout cornerback off of the field, and that it’s been a very memorable four-year journey from Davis’ inaugural game at Tennessee.
“I remember Jalen sticking his nose inside of a bubble screen, and a ball going down the sidelines in about 4.4 seconds for a touchdown. That was the freshman corner,” Wells says with a grin. “But I also remember (then defensive coordinator) Todd Orlando saying, ‘He’ll be fine. He’s going to be OK, coach.’
“That’s vivid. I remember that like it was yesterday.”