JACKSONVILLE — What a pitiful, painful sight Shaq Davidson must have been this time last fall, hobbling along on the hilly, tree-lined University of South Carolina campus that sprawls across downtown Columbia.
First, one knee surgery to fix immediate damage. Then, a few weeks later, the other knee, to repair a previous surgery.
“It was kind of mindblowing,” he said. “It affected me a lot. The first month, I didn’t want to do anything. But I just kept faith, and my family and my mom (Kimberly Davidson) helped me get through it, telling me everything was going to be all right, to pray about it. I kept working and I felt like God led me here.”
“Here” is Jacksonville State, where Davidson has resurrected a football career that seemed to be burned toast a year ago.
He has six catches for 53 yards in his first three games, making him one of 10 Jax State wide receivers with at least one reception from quarterback Eli Jenkins. He is also one of three newcomer transfer receivers from Power 5 conference teams, joining Krenwick Sanders (Wisconsin) and Kevin Spears (LSU).
Sanders and Spears were rusty. Davidson was not only rusty, but he was raw. He was a quarterback his last two years in high school, making a transition to receiver at South Carolina, where he never played a down.
Trading in the one shade of red for another, but keeping the same mascot, meant a leap of faith. For both Davidson and for Jacksonville State.
“No doubt,” said JSU coach John Grass. “We trusted that he was healthy. He has come in here and done a good job. You love to see success stories like him — a kid who has been banged up and he’s overcome it. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
“I just have to do my job and play my role and hopefully whenever my time comes I’m ready to step up to the plate,” he said.
Davidson sat out the 2014 season at South Carolina, then a week before the 2015 season began, he tore his ACL in practice. He had previously torn the other ACL as a high school sophomore in Gaffney, S.C., and an MRI revealed it needed work. Hence, two knee surgeries a month apart.
It led to six months of recovery and rehab, and it left him well on the back burner for South Carolina’s plans. He decided last winter that he would transfer but wisely remained on campus to finish the spring semester.
Dan Jones, his former coach at Gaffney High School, helped in the transfer process. He also vividly recalled Davidson as a wide receiver during his sophomore season, before Jones moved him to QB to take advantage of his athleticism.
“He was the guy that you throw the screen to, he’d make two guys miss and go 75 yards. When you tried to stop that, he was also the guy that could beat you deep,” Jones told Matt Connolly of The (Columbia) State last spring.
Because of the first knee injury, “I’m not sure at that time he ever got back to being as dynamic as he was as a 10th grader. But he was still in high school, better than everybody else. He won ballgames for us just one play after another,” Jones said.
Davidson visited Jax State in July, then drove his Camaro back to Gaffney and essentially did a U-turn, returning to Jacksonville with clothes and the barest necessities.
Said Davidson, “I didn’t even bring a TV.”
He arrived just in time to begin summer practice. He made his debut against North Alabama with a pair of catches.
Before that game the magnitude of it all struck him. He “got a little emotional,” he admitted. Moments before the team hit the field for warmups, Davidson said, “I got little teary-eyed.”
Who could blame him? Enough tears from the pain, who deserved some tears of joy more than him?