Utah State cornerback Jalen Davis had high expectations at the start the 2017 season, but not even he anticipated what has transpired this fall.
A four-year starter for the Aggies, Davis entered this season projected as a second- or third-team all-Mountain West pick by various publications.
But the player once known as “Little Train” when he was growing up playing Pop Warner football — and still called that by some — has been rapidly building up steam to an unprecedented level of national recognition.
Davis has been named a first-team mid-season All-America by the Associated Press, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated.
He was the only first-team selection to not play at a Power Five conference school for both the SI and AP teams.
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“I think he’s handling it real well. He’s a level-headed young man,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said this week. “He’s smart and he understands that a lot of his success comes from the guys around him and he’s very humble about it.”
Davis insists it’s not a big deal to him.
“I don’t really pay any attention to it,” said the senior corner, who acknowledged that it is brought up by friends on almost a daily basis. “I don’t let it get to my head, don’t think about it too much. I acknowledge it and just keep it [the conversation] moving.”
A native of La Mesa, California, near San Diego, Davis went to Helix High School — former Utah great Alex Smith’s alma mater — and started his first game as a freshman when he became an Aggie.
This year, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound defensive back has latched on to five interceptions and returned three of those for touchdowns. His hallmark performance was a three-pick day against BYU where he found his way to the end zone twice.
It hasn’t all been perfect, though.
Davis was ejected from the season-opener against Wisconsin on a disputed targeting penalty. Last week at UNLV, Davis left the game with what appeared to be a concussion although he has since said he expects to play Saturday against Boise State.
For a player who is quick to smile, a brief demonstration of anger and frustration at the targeting call was outside the norm for Davis.
“He’s an easy-going kid, smiles a lot. He enjoys the game, enjoys being around his teammates,” said Utah State defensive backs coach Julius Brown, who tries to employ Davis in different spots to increase his effectiveness.
“He plays a bunch of different spots on defense and we try to not let teams know where exactly he’s going to be,” Brown said. “He’s played for the field, he’s played for the boundary, he’s played the nickel, he’s lined up at safety, he’s followed wide receivers around.
“He brings a unique skill set and we’re about to use him a number of different ways,” Brown added.
Utah State has had notable success lately in moving players to the NFL. Fourteen former Aggies now dot on active NFL rosters.
Wells thinks that Davis certainly could join that group.
“He’s got the speed of Willie Davis and the competitiveness of Nevin Lawson,” said Wells, comparing Davis to a pair of standout former USU corners. Davis played with Miami and Baltimore from 2013 to 2016 while Lawson is currently with the Detroit Lions.
For this little train, the big time might be his next stop.
“I think I’ve got a shot at it, that’s what I do this for — to get up to that level,” Davis said.