When Will Davis joined Kansas State’s football team, he learned the ins and outs of middle linebacker from Arthur Brown, an all-conference playmaker now in the NFL.
After a redshirt year, Davis then studied under Blake Slaughter, a hard-working defender that led K-State with 110 tackles as a senior.
Davis couldn’t have asked for a better pair of role models. They prepared him for a climb up the depth chart and he rose quickly, winning a middle linebacker spot heading into his sophomore season.
“I have had some good people to look up to here,” Davis said.
But now comes the truly hard part: following his predecessors.
Davis is taking over at a position that has produced K-State’s leading tackler in three consecutive seasons. Brown totaled 101 tackles as a junior and 100 as a senior. Slaughter improbably topped those totals a year ago.
Can Davis do the same? It seems unlikely, given his lack of experience and the proven linebackers playing alongside him, Jonathan Truman and Charmeachealle Moore. But Davis isn’t shying away from comparisons to Brown and Slaughter. He’s getting tired of waiting for the opener against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.
“I’m excited for it,” Davis said. “I feel like I have been here forever. I am excited for it, and I am trying to get prepared in the film room and on the practice field. So I’m just trying to put the best work in I can. Hopefully, it will all go well.”
If it doesn’t, Davis will have time to improve and a winning pedigree to call upon.
Before arriving at K-State, Davis was king of a Texas high school power. And the last time he started at linebacker, his team was flawless. He piled up 176 tackles as a senior leader at Southlake Carroll, leading his team to an undefeated season and a 5A championship. One news outlet named him Texas’ 5A Defensive Player of the Year.
He spent his first two years in Manhattan on the scout team and then helping out on special teams, but his talent didn’t disappear. Veteran players have mentioned his name as an up-and-comer since his arrival, and he found a way to make 16 tackles last season despite minor playing time.
“He is a tough young guy and a young guy who is intelligent about the game,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He learns the system very well. He is a very responsible young guy. You have got to have people at that position that get to where they need to be. There is a self-discipline aspect of it, and he has that. You don’t get Will out of position very often.
“He is always going to give you the best effort that he has. He is not afraid to hit you. He has everything that you are looking for at that position.”
Truman, a senior from Wichita, is eager to see what Davis can do with a permanent role on the field.
“Will is a hard-working guy,” Truman said. “He is going to be in the right spots at the right time. He is a very smart player. I have a lot of trust in him playing beside me.”
Ask Davis to describe his playing style, and he doesn’t talk about his athleticism or hitting ability. Instead, he says, “I have a high football IQ.”
Early on, he learned that all college players have talent. He says K-State’s linebackers had to bring their best stuff to every preseason practice to stay in the mix for playing time.
He thinks he separated himself with a fundamentally sound approach. He soaked up all the knowledge he could on special teams last year, and he spends more time in the video room than some quarterbacks.
“I feel like I have good instincts,” Davis said. “I feel like I can move side to side pretty decently, and I have always been a big believer in hard work. That, and getting in the film room, has really helped me.”
So much that he isn’t afraid to follow a standout duo.