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April 4, 2013A lot of recruitniks thought that Quinshad Davis was going to be the steal of North Carolina's 2012 signing class.
And considering that the long, playmaking stud out of Gaffney (S.C.) wasn't even really looking hard at the Tar Heels until Larry Fedora and his staff's late arrival that winter, it's all the more intriguing that he's now arguably the team's biggest offensive star heading into the 2013 season.
Fedora, Gunter Brewer and the rest of the UNC staff made up a year or more's worth of recruiting work with Davis in a matter of weeks, and his decision to come to North Carolina over Wake Forest could have a critical bearing on the balance of power in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division over the next couple of years.
As a rookie last fall the 6-4 Davis made history more than once in a record-breaking season that saw him surpass Hakeem Nicks' previous UNC marks, set back in 2006, in receptions and yardage for a first-year Tar Heel player.
Davis's 16 receptions against Virginia on a cold November Thursday evening in Charlottesville tied him with five other players for the most catches in a single game in ACC history.
It was the most by a Tar Heel player in a single game since Charlie Carr first established the mark by making 16 grabs against Air Force on November 12, 1966---a 20-14 loss in Jim Hickey's third-to-last game at North Carolina.
On his way to 61 catches and 776 yards for the season, which both led the Tar Heels, Davis had at least seven receptions and 104 receiving yards in each of Carolina's last three games, including his 16 catch, 178-yard epic performance at Virginia on the ESPN Thursday Night prime time stage.
Not bad for a guy who missed a considerable chunk of training camp early on in August due to a medical concern that clearly turned out to be something that wouldn't limit him.
With Giovani Bernard and Erik Highsmith (two of UNC's top four receivers in 2012 along with Davis and Eric Ebron) now gone from the Tar Heel roster as the team works through spring workouts, it's up to Davis to step up even more and fill that perceived role of 'Go-To' player for Carolina.
"It's going pretty good," Davis said of the spring season in a Wednesday afternoon interview with Tar Heel Illustrated. "I got a good hold on the offense last year."
Davis's breakthrough 2012 season at Carolina came on the heels of another highly-productive season at Gaffney High his senior year of high school in 2011, as he recorded an astounding 2,009 receiving yards, along with 184 yards in the South Carolina Class AAAA Division I state title game, though Gaffney lost in the final to national powerhouse Duncan Byrnes.
Having gone through the experience already of being the targeted receiver and having to go out and play when everyone, from the crowd to your own quarterback to the entire opposing defense is studying your every move, Davis says it's not that huge a deal to him that now he's being asked to assume that role again at the college level.
"Of course I'm kind of getting used to it (attracting attention), being that I was 'The Man' in high school. I've just got to transfer that to college now, and make plays like I was last year," Davis told us.
So exactly what can Davis to do top last year?
In his own words, do more.
"My goals are always to exceed the last year. What I did last year, I want to do more than that (the next year)," he said.
Something that might help Davis tremendously towards that goal of doing more in 2013 is the bulk he's added since arriving a gangly 185-pounder straight out of high school last summer.
Since that time Davis tells us he's packed on 20 pounds of muscle, putting him over the 200-pound plateau. The weight gain is a positive and perhaps even expected thing of guys his height at his position who go on to the National Football League.
"Last year I came in at 185 (pounds). I'm 205 now, so about 20 pounds (I've gained). I'm a lot stronger, a lot faster. I can get up and down the field a lot better," Davis said.
Another thing that should help Davis as he gets going with his second collegiate season is the experience that's come from working around and against collegiate cornerbacks.
He's more familiar with their speed, their footwork, their eyes, and their tendencies in general.
And picking up on each of those things can give Davis a decided advantage when it's finally time to go out one-on-one, head-to-head in a matchup.
"Reading defenses---that's the main thing with college. I mean, high school you don't really have to, but in college, reading defenses is the key," Davis said. "I would say just their (college cornerbacks') speed (is the biggest adjustment from high school). They're a lot faster. A lot faster. So you've got to maneuver different kinds of ways and just make a play."
Another component of being 'The Man,' so to speak, is leadership.
And while Davis defers to junior Sean Tapley, the new elder statesman of the UNC wide receivers, as the position groups' unofficial leader, he admits to taking on a substantially enhanced leadership role this spring to help bring along his teammates.
"Tap, he's the leader, but me coming in as some say the 'go-to guy,' I've got to talk up, speak up for the team, and make plays for the team," he said.
"I'm just coming in trying to make plays, and teach younger players like Jordan Fieulleteau what to do out there."
Davis says he enjoyed last week's scrimmage at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, and is looking forward to Friday night's second road scrimmage at Grimsley High in Greensboro.
"Charlotte, that was my first time (at a road spring scrimmage) since it was my first spring. But it was pretty good. The boys out there were hitting pretty hard, banged me up pretty good, but I liked it," Davis said. It's just giving us a game feel."
"We're just out here competing right now (in Chapel Hill at practice). We aren't really hitting. But when we go to those scrimmages, we're hitting. We've live. And it's just giving us a 'game' feel again, getting us ready for the spring game."