Change doesn’t agitate Aaron Davis.
On the contrary.
After all, change is one of the few things Davis has gotten used to since joining Georgia as a walk-on in 2013. He has switched positions, parrying back and forth between cornerback and safety. And he has learned the systems and accompanying terminology of three different defensive coordinators.
Yet here he is, in line to become a starter for the fourth straight season.
“It’s just a chance to leave it all there,” said Davis, a fifth-year defensive back at the top of the Bulldogs' safety depth chart. “I definitely wanted to bring it every single year before, but this year I know this is it and there’s nothing else left for me as far as college-wise. So just bring it all and leave it all out there.”
That Davis has such an opportunity in the first place is a minor miracle.
Davis was a receiver by trade during his time at Luella High School in Locust Grove – a time when he was drawing interest from multiple Division I schools, including those from the SEC and ACC. But a pair of serious knee injuries suffered in his final two seasons of high school curtailed that interest. By the time Davis graduated in 2013, those high-major schools had already moved on.
But he was undeterred.
After walking on and redshirting in 2013 under then-defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Davis worked his way into the lineup in 2014 during Jeremy Pruitt’s first season directing the defense, making 10 starts. Not long after, Davis was awarded a scholarship. That decision paid dividends for both the Bulldogs and Davis, as he has made 20 more starts the past two seasons – a stretch which saw yet another change at coordinator, as Mel Tucker followed first-year head coach Kirby Smart from Alabama.
By now, Davis’ role as a leader of the defense is unquestioned. But he recalled a time shortly after arriving as an unheralded walk-on when he had to earn his teammates’ respect.
“Early on, I feel like it was more of being accepted by the players more than the coaches and that my play on the field would actually dictate whether I’d be able to play or not,” Davis said. “I just wanted to put myself in a position where, no matter what, how they know me or who they know I am, my play on the field they couldn’t be able to deny.”
The view others have of him, however, has always paled in comparison to Davis' own high standards.
“I’ve always been my biggest critic, so whether it’s other people – whether they say positive things or negative things about me – I’m my biggest critic,” Davis said. “So no matter what, I’m always telling myself, ‘Oh, I could have done this better.’ So it’s really more about proving to myself.”
Despite the individual success Davis has enjoyed the past three seasons, his return for 2017 was in doubt last December. As he tells it, he weighed three different options.
One was leaving for the NFL. Another was simply coming back for one last go-round with the Bulldogs. Finally, he contemplated walking away from football entirely.
The final alternative, however, was quickly dismissed.
“I love the game too much,” Davis said, “so I decided to come back and play for another year.”
Reggie Carter couldn’t be happier. Carter, a senior inside linebacker, praised Davis’ resilience.
“Oh, man, Aaron’s story is incredible,” Carter said, "as far as him overcoming the injuries he did in high school and come here and walk on, have a coaching change, win a starting spot, have another coaching change and win another starting spot. His story is unbelievable.”
Carter has seen Davis’ intense commitment to improvement first hand.
“Aaron is one of those guys who watches film all the time,” said Carter, who noted he is Davis’ roommate. “He’s in the (dorm) room doing stretches. He’s got a yoga mat, got a foam roller. He stays in the film room and he just wants to get better. I’m happy for everything he has.”
But Davis isn’t satisfied.
This fall, he craves it all.
“I wanted to sharpen up everything I can -- show that I can play multiple positions at a high level, be able to be out there and dominate guys, not just sustain,” Davis said. “I really want to be out there and be able to be an impact player for the team.”