Arkansas running back Knile Davis healed, eager for return

Monday, July 16, 2012 | 6:54 p.m. CDT; updated 8:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 16, 2012
In this April 13 file photo, Arkansas running back Knile Davis is interviewed following football practice in Fayetteville, Ark. The Arkansas running back missed all of last season with an ankle injury, and his return to form could very well hold the key to the Razorbacks' championship hopes this season.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Knile Davis hasn't seen the video of the play, the one called "47," that ended his season before it even began last August.

The Arkansas running back doesn't need to see the play to remember. The details of a broken ankle are still fresh in his mind, a daily reminder and motivation during his quest to return to the field this season.

Davis' return figures to be one of the most followed story lines for the Razorbacks. That's saying something, considering the tumultuous spring in Fayetteville following revelations of Bobby Petrino's affair with a football staffer, his eventual firing and the hiring of John L. Smith as coach.

How Davis responds after not playing a game in 19 months also figures to have a direct impact on the success of Arkansas in the post-Petrino era. The Razorbacks open fall practice Aug. 1 — a day Davis said can't get here soon enough.

"I'm ready to go," Davis said. "So, so ready."

Davis led all Southeastern Conference running backs in rushing in 2010 with 1,322 yards. He did so despite beginning the season as a relative unknown, more than making up for the slow start with an average of 147 yards over his final seven games of the season. He capped off the breakout season with a 139-yard performance in a Sugar Bowl-loss to Ohio State and entered last season as a Heisman Trophy contender.

That is, until the Aug. 11 ankle break that left the Razorbacks deflated and scrambling to replace him. Arkansas went on to have a successful season, finishing 11-2 and rising as high as No. 3 in the polls at one point, but losses to eventual national champion Alabama and No. 2 LSU were difficult to accept for Davis.

"I just think the timing of this one was what made it the worst," Davis said. "I really felt that we could have reached our goals, the national championship and all the things we were talking about that year. I felt like we could have done that, and when I got hurt, I felt like I took away from that. I didn't feel like we had all our pieces, our whole crew."

Injuries were nothing new to Davis. His laundry list of ailments, dating to his junior year of high school, includes three broken ankles and two broken collar bones.

None of the previous injuries, though, hurt as badly or required as difficult a rehab as his latest setback. In Davis' mind, it was those previous injuries that helped him during his recovery.

"Having had injuries before, my mind was prepared for what I was going to have to go through as far as rehab and not being able to walk," Davis said. "I already knew what I was dealing with, losing weight, that type of thing."

Davis traveled to every game, serving as a mentor and assistant coach of sorts for the younger players. That mindset carried over to the junior's recovery, where he continued to impress fellow players along with strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp.

"One of the players says he was made in a laboratory, like he's like the bionic man," Veltkamp said. "You just can't stop him, and he just keeps on getting better and better."

Davis' teammates routinely referred to him prior to last season as a "freak" for his efforts in the weight room. Little has changed since the ankle injury.

In fact, Davis set a personal best with a 570-pound squat in March — a number Veltkamp said could have easily reached the 600-pound mark had the coaches not held back the 6-foot, 226-pound running back because of his ankle injury.

"Guys will just stop and watch when he gets up again (to lift)," Veltkamp said. "It will kind of silence the room. They'll line up just to watch him."

Davis' return to form in the weight room might not fully indicate how he'll fare in his return to the field, but he has no doubt that he's ready to face contact for the first time since his injury. He returned to practice late last season, prior to Arkansas' Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, but he didn't face contact then or during the spring.

Davis wanted to play against the Wildcats, but he never voiced that to his coaches for fear of becoming a distraction to a team that he felt like had moved on and found its own identity without him.  It's that sense of awareness and quiet leadership that has endeared Davis to his teammates and coaches.

It's his determination that has them eager to watch and confident in his return to the field.

"I don't have any worries about him," Arkansas trainer Matt Summers said. "I'll be watching him closely just because of how good he is, but other than that, as far as his ankle goes, I don't have any concerns about that."

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