At face value, a football player’s number helps distinguish him from the rest of the team on the field.
But for USF’s Andre Davis it means getting back to his roots during his senior year.
Davis began playing football at the age of 10 and wore the same number on his jersey ever since – until college, that is.
“Seven, seven, seven, seven,” fellow senior and Tampa native Mike McFarland, who played against Davis when he played for Blake High School, said. “‘We have to stop this kid.’ That was my coach’s mindset in high school.”
It was then that Davis, sporting the No. 7 jersey for Jefferson High School, would beat McFarland’s team three years in a row as a receiver.
During his time at Jefferson, Davis – or as others called him, “The Freak Show” – helped lead his school to its first ever State Championship.
Finishing his three years on varsity with over 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns on 164 receptions, Davis showed where his nickname came from with one acrobatic catch after another.
Since he entered USF in 2011, the Bulls haven’t been an above-.500 team and have had no bowl games with its two coaches and five different starting quarterbacks in that span.
Davis hopes for all of that to change – the first change being his jersey, going back to No. 7 after three years of donning an
81 across his chest at USF.
“It feels good, I feel comfortable to be back in the seven,” he said. “It’s like a fresh start. I just want to have a big year and I’m taking this as a new slate.”
Davis revealed his old number, or new number depending on how you look at it, when he stepped onto the practice field last Wednesday and similar to a veteran’s flashback of war, McFarland was reminded of the days where “The Freak Show” would show up his team’s secondary.
The only difference is now they’re on the same team.
“He’s ready,” McFarland said, before channeling a Kevin Hart-like impression. “It’s about to go down.”
A three-star tight end coming out of high school, McFarland transferred to USF from Florida in 2011. That’s when he was able to see Davis once again, this time as No. 81.
“When I first got here I remember saying to myself ‘Damn, we got the receiver from Jefferson,'” he said. “I couldn’t help but get hyped. It made me want to work hard.”
During Davis’ first year with the Bulls, he worked with the former No. 7 – current quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, B.J. Daniels.
Even when Daniels graduated, Davis let the No. 7 sit for a year before taking it on again.
“I didn’t want to get it last year because I didn’t want people to be like ‘B.J. this, B.J. that.'” Davis said.
But even without the number he helped make famous in the Tampa area during high school, Davis has still managed to put up solid numbers.
After leading the Bulls in 2012 with six touchdowns on 46 catches for 534 yards, it was 2013 that pushed Davis closer to
Last season, with a 2-10 record through four quarterbacks, Davis caught 49 passes for 735 yards and two touchdowns.
His two touchdowns put him three shy of the most among any USF receiver in history – the record being set by DeAndrew Rubin from 1999-2002.
Davis’ 735 yards was record setting for a single season at USF, breaking Carlton Mitchell’s record of 706 yards in 2009.
The ever-elusive 1,000-yard mark is still on his mind though, he said.
“The main goal is to become bowl eligible and win the conference, something we haven’t done since I got here,” Davis said. “But I want to become the first 1,000-yard wide receiver in USF history.”
While Davis wants to leave his mark at USF, he’s already left one on yet another current teammate and former opponent.
Receiver Jordan Duval, also a Tampa native, said he vividly remembers “the Freak Show” when he attended Davis’ rival school, Hillsborough High.
Davis helped Jefferson to a 16-15 win over Duval’s team in the season opener of their junior year.
“We still talk junk about it to this day,” Duval said. “It’s good to see him back in the No. 7, because that’s the ‘Dre I know.”
Listed at 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, Duval only has an inch on Davis and weighs a pound less, leading to them being nearly identical receivers.
Duval said he learned a lot now that they’re teammates, and said Davis going back to his original number means much more than a new jersey.
He too would like to go back to wearing No. 11 as he did at Hillsborough, he said.
“In high school you have your own swagger and you feel like you’re at the top of your game,” he said. “Once you work your way up in college and get your number back, you can get back in your good swagger.”
It would be good timing for Davis to get that swagger back as his senior year approaches.
“It feels like I was in Juniper (Hall) yesterday,” he said.
Davis and the Bulls still have nine practices before their Spring Game on March 29 – and a whole season before Davis graduates in December.