North Carolina running back Daniel Davis's philosophy of life is simple. "Don't take anything for granted," says the freshman from Stafford, following a practice for Saturday's game at Maryland.
His first collegiate season has been an excellent example of that. Not much has worked out for Davis the way it was supposed to. With five games remaining, he has not had many carries, and North Carolina is 1-5 (0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference)--its worst start since going 1-10 in 1989. If the Tar Heels lose to Maryland, their streak of seven consecutive bowl appearances will end.
"We're not supposed to talk about next year," Davis said. "But that's basically what we're doing, just getting ready for next year."
Davis is not the only North Carolina player to see this season go awry. Starting quarterback Ronald Curry ruptured his Achilles' tendon. Star linebacker Brandon Spoon also is out for the season with an injury, and Curry's backup, Luke Huard, probably will start Saturday despite a rotator cuff injury that had forced Coach Carl Torbush to turn to defensive back Antwon Black as his number one quarterback in practice this week and running back Domonique Williams of Upper Marlboro as Black's backup.
Davis's season hasn't gone much better, and he will miss Saturday's game with a sprained ankle.
Highly recruited out of Brooke Point High School--where he rushed for 2,039 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior en route to being named The Post's offensive player of the year--Davis chose North Carolina over Virginia and Maryland and came here hoping for an impact season.
"Most freshmen come in here timid and scared," fullback Deon Dyer said shortly after Davis's arrival. "But he came in really wanting to be a leader on this team."
However, injuries--along with an oversight by Torbush in the first game--have hindered Davis. He has rushed for 159 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries.
Davis has missed the Tar Heels' past two games, against Georgia Tech and Houston, because of the sprained ankle. Then he aggravated the injury in practice, keeping him out of the Maryland game.
Davis also has been told before he would play in a game and then didn't. After Davis ran for 177 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries in two preseason scrimmages, Torbush said he would play in the opener against Virginia. But Davis was in for one play in a 20-17 loss. Torbush said he made a mistake by not utilizing Davis more and would change things the next week at Indiana.
During the week preceding the Indiana game, Davis was stricken by an ulcer in his eye and had to miss a couple of practices. Special protective goggles arrived at the team's hotel the morning of the game, and Davis rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries in North Carolina's only win, 42-30.
"I don't want to put the other backs down, but once they [the coaches] saw my speed, they had to commit more to me," Davis said of his performance against the Hoosiers.
Torbush acknowledged that Davis's presence changed that game. "He made some plays and opened things up," the coach said.
Davis was ready to improve on that performance in North Carolina's next game, against Florida State, but a toothache led to a wisdom tooth extraction and more missed practice time. He still rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries in a 42-10 loss.
Then came the sprained ankle, in a 31-20 loss at Clemson Oct. 2, when Davis had run for 33 yards and his first collegiate touchdown on 10 carries before getting injured.
Davis has done his best to stay positive, saying: "The biggest thing now is just to support the team and be the best positive influence I can be." But he couldn't completely conceal his frustration, saying one of the reasons he came to North Carolina was for the opportunity to play right away.
"Coach says I need a lot more repetitions," Davis said. "But I can't get the repetitions without playing. I feel like I've done good things when I've gotten the ball."