Capitals

Utah State DB finds his way with No. 18 Aggies

Utah State DB finds his way with No. 18 Aggies

LOGAN, Utah (AP) Three years ago, Will Davis was content to be playing flag football at Western Washington, gunning for an intramural championship. He had tuition money in hand, good buddies at his side and time to figure out life.

Now the charismatic 22-year-old has his sights set on the NFL after a record-setting senior season for No. 18 Utah State that culminates with Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Toledo (9-3).

``This is beyond my dreams,'' said Davis, part of a defense that helped the Aggies win the Western Athletic Conference title and a school-record 10 games.

Like the Aggies, who have won six straight, Davis is on a roll.

The 6-foot, 186-pound cornerback has had an interception in five straight games to earn first-team All-WAC honors. He also has been invited to play in the Senior Bowl in January.

Not bad for a guy who has played only four years of organized football and found himself emailing practically every coach in the nation two years ago trying to secure a Division I scholarship.

When he finally signed on the dotted line for Utah State's Gary Andersen, the JC-transfer didn't exactly wow. He started last season as a backup and was in danger of being cut from the traveling squad.

``That kind of woke him up,'' said position coach Kendrick Shaver. ``He started taking advantage of the reps he was getting in practice and letting his talent shine.''

That he has done, and he shines in other ways, too.

Davis has 900-plus Twitter followers, and isn't shy about interacting with all. He's the same way off the field - approachable and real. Shaver teasingly calls him a politician because he won't take a seat in meetings until he has shaken every teammate's hand and asked about their day.

``I love Willie Davis, the kid on the field, going around having a blast,'' Davis said. ``But I'd rather be known as Will Davis. I don't want people to be shy around me. I'm not some big-time (athlete).''

But he has made some big-time plays, three in particular that affected the careers of opposing quarterbacks.

The first actually didn't help Utah State, as his deflection of a Riley Nelson pass still ended up in the hands of a secondary BYU receiver in last year's last-second loss to the Cougars. It helped solidify Nelson's job as BYU quarterback and hastened the transfer of once highly touted recruit Jake Heaps to Kansas.

In September, a blitzing Davis supplied the hit that would end the career of Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who retired after learning he would need a fourth shoulder operation.

Last month, it was Davis who halted Colby Cameron's NCAA-record streak of 444 consecutive passes without an interception when he picked off one in the end zone, helping the Aggies pull off the 48-41 upset victory over Louisiana Tech that propelled them into The Associated Press rankings for the first time since 1961.

``We ran that route five to six times in practice, so everything looked right,'' Davis said. ``I went with my gut and pulled the trigger ... jumped the route.''

Shaver said it's those instincts and ability to absorb information quickly that make Davis special.

``He blossomed when he was able to understand that people are going to catch a football on him and it's not the end of the world,'' Andersen said.

Davis should have known that already from his own upbringing.

His dad, now a pastor, was a good athlete in his own right but grew up in Los Angeles and has two bullet wounds as reminders of his early life in the gangs.

``He didn't want that for us, so he moved us to Washington, good old Spokane, and honestly I'm glad we made the move. Spokane raised me,'' Davis said.

As a senior, another event changed his life when he and his then-girlfriend found out they were going to be parents.

``I remember going to one of my teachers in tears thinking, `What did I do, what's happening?' You make decisions in life and have got to live with them,'' he said. ``My teachers told me, `Honestly, if this is the worst thing that happens in life, you're going to have a great life.'''

Davis began looking at the positives several months in, even picturing the little Jordan pink slippers he'd get when he found out their baby was a girl.

His daughter arrived on Aug. 3, 2008, but died later the same day because her rib cage never developed, and thus her lungs couldn't expand so she could breathe.

He'd get to hold her before she died, calling the moments he had with her ``priceless.''

He has a copy of her tiny hand print tattooed on his upper left arm, and remains friends with the mother and her family, whom he said will be at Saturday's bowl game in Boise.

It will be his final as an Aggie, other than the Senior Bowl, where he can only hope to follow in the footsteps of linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Wagner was a relative unknown going against players from big-time programs, but earned most valuable player honors for the North squad last year and now is a starting linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks.

Andersen predicts Davis will be drafted in a fairly high round next spring, but like everyone else trying to make that jump, faces a tremendous challenge.

Davis' first challenge, though, will be a high-powered Toledo offense led by quarterback Terrance Owens. Toledo enters the game ranked 28th in the nation in total offense. Owens can throw deep and has a pair of talented receivers in Bernard Reedy (82 catches, 1,051 yards) and 6-foot-4 freshman Alonzo Russell (54 catches, 925 yards).

Davis' Twitter followers are asking him if he'll get another interception.

``There are high expectations, but that's what you want, `` Davis said, shaking his head at the thought he almost settled for intramural flag football after Western Washington cut its Division II program. ``You want that on you.''

Quick Links

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

usatsi_10360906.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.