After a rocky start, Georgia Tech kicker Shawn Davis is feeling settled into his position going into his fifth game as the starter.
“I think Tennessee, I was really rushing things, and the game, I would say it was flying, for sure,” Davis said. “Over the last couple games now, it’s definitely slowed down. I feel like our operation’s really smooth now. So, definitely, comfort level’s high.”
Davis had the roughest of introductions to college football. In his first game as Tech’s No. 1 kicker, Davis missed both field-goal attempts in the season opener against Tennessee in a sold-out Mercedes-Benz Stadium. His second attempt, from 36 yards, would have won the game for the Yellow Jackets at the end of regulation, but was blocked.
Since then, Davis has made both of his field-goal attempts (from 34 and 21 yards – and 16 of 17 extra-point tries. He also was successful on a 40-yarder against Jacksonville State, but the points were taken off the board when Tech coach Paul Johnson decided to accept a roughing penalty that gave the Yellow Jackets a first down. He has seven touchbacks on 23 kickoffs.
Johnson had Davis and freshman Brenton King compete throughout the preseason and into the season, but said last week that Davis was the starter “for now.”
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Davis acknowledged an entirely understandable reaction in the Tennessee game, just the second game he had ever played at the college level after redshirting in 2015 and backing up Harrison Butker last year – he was too sped up.
“I guess I was worried about getting kicks blocked, just going too slow,” Davis said. “I was almost sprinting to the ball. Now, I just feel like it’s really slowed down more.”
Davis said the operation time – the elapsed time between snapper Casey Wilson firing the ball to holder Chase Martenson and then Davis striking the ball – is the same, but he feels as though it has slowed. Prior to the Pittsburgh game, Davis said the three of them performed the “around the world” drill – in which kickers take increasingly longer kicks and shift between the hashmarks. Davis said that was the unit’s best practice in a long time and has given them more comfort and confidence. He said his range can go out to about 50 yards.
“It just feels like the speed of the game has gotten a lot slower for me, and then Casey’s been giving me money snaps,” Davis said. “That’s just making life easy, too. It’s really smoothed out.”
Davis said that he has been communicating with Butker – now starring with the Kansas City Chiefs – and former punter Ryan Rodwell, who have both given him counsel and encouragement. They’ve advised him to eliminate distracting thoughts and outside voices. Davis said he has not been on social media since the Tennessee game. Davis’ name was invoked often and in uncharitable manner following the game on Twitter.
“It’s a part of the job, I guess you’d say,” Davis said. “I guess it just comes with it. I haven’t really looked at it, so I’m fine.”
Butker said another piece of encouragement he gave Davis even before the Tennessee game was to remember to not judge himself solely on how he kicked field goals or by what fans or media say. Indeed, Butker’s game-winner on Monday Night Football came after he missed his first field-goal try of the game from almost the same spot on the field.
“If you miss a couple kicks, you start to think, ‘Maybe the guys don’t like me because I missed the kick,’ or ‘Maybe I’m not as much of a man because I didn’t perform under high pressure,’” Butker said.
There is football, and there is Shawn Davis, Butker said, “and you’ve got to be able to separate those two.”
Butker, Tech’s all-time leading scorer, acknowledged the big jump from high school to college – playing in front of many more fans and for much higher stakes. Butker himself was not nearly as effective as a freshman as he was as a junior and senior. He also had the advantage that his first game at Tech was a blowout of Elon.
“I had a lot of kicks my freshman year that were kind of all over the place,” Butker said.
Butker knows Davis well, and they kicked together as late as this summer. He has been following Davis’ progress and was hopeful for the rest of the season. Saturday’s game against Miami will be another challenge, his first true road game.
“I’m really happy for him,” Butker said. “I know he’s a good kicker. It’s too bad that those kicks didn’t go in, but you’ve got to move on, and that can’t define you and you’ve got to keep going.”