A.J. Davis just assumed that his teammate Tee Hodge would be Maryville’s representative when the 2018 Tennessee Titans Mr. Football semifinalists list came out on Nov. 1.
Instead, the junior wide receiver scrolled down the screen and came across another familiar name: His own.
“I was so shocked,” Davis told The Daily Times.
“I saw my name and thought ‘A.J. Davis, for real?’ We have so many great athletes in Tennessee and for me to be one of those players was amazing.”
Davis is one of five Class 6A semifinalists, joining Oakland’s Xavier Myers and Woodi Washington, Independence’s T.J. Sheffield and Cane Ridge’s Devon Starling. The thre finalists for the award will be named on Monday at 3 p.m.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound wideout’s astonishment to being included in that class comes as no surprise to anybody who knows him.
As talented as Davis is, he is just as humble.
“We have quite a few kids who would have been deserving to be on the Mr. Football semifinalist list, but when I saw A.J., I wasn’t surprised,” Maryville coach Derek Hunt said. “It speaks a lot to his character when he says he expected his teammate to be on that list. That’s a high character 16-year-old kid and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Character is just one of the many attributes Davis scores highly in.
He is one of the main cogs in an offense that has not missed a beat this season despite losing eight starters from last year’s state championship team.
Maryville is predicated on running the football, but Davis has been the go-to target in a passing attack led by a pair of quarterbacks — juniors Braden Carnes and Cade Chambers — that had combined to make one career start entering this season.
“He’s taken a lot of pressure off our offense because he’s our security blanket,” Hunt said. “He played a lot as a freshman and started as a sophomore, so this is his third year in this system and he knows what everybody is supposed to do throughout the entire offense.
“For a 16-year-old kid to know all that is pretty remarkable.”
That knowledge coupled with Power 5-prospect athleticism has molded one of the best receivers in the state.
Entering Friday’s second-round playoff game against Science Hill, Davis has hauled in 58 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games. He also has a rushing touchdown and a 44-yard passing touchdown he threw against Bearden in the first round.
“AJ is one of the most instinctive players that I’ve seen on a football field,” Hunt said. “He has such a good feel for the game. He’s extremely smart — it’s almost underrated how smart he is. Whoever gets him at the next level is going to steal him.
“He may not necessarily pass the eye test with his size but golly he can play football. A lot of times coaches would rather have that ‘it’ factor that is hard to explain rather than a physical specimen. He’s got it all and we’re very fortunate he’s on our football team.”
The 3-star prospect has offers from Indiana, Western Kentucky, Central Michigan, Chattanooga and Western Carolina, and has drawn interest from schools like Tennessee, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech and Cincinnati. He is rated as the 27th-best prospect in the state, according to Rivals.
Two years ago, all this buzz would have been unthinkable to Davis, which is why he does not take the position he is in now for granted.
“I know what it’s like to be on the ground level where you are just grinding by yourself and nobody is really looking at you and now I know what it’s like to be at the top where everyone knows your name,” Davis said. “I know the best of both of those worlds, so I just try to not get caught up in all the hype.”
Davis is one of the best players on the most prestigious team in the state, but what stands out about him is everything other than the talent that put him in line for Mr. Football.
More than anything, that is what he wants to be remembered for.
“I just want to be the guy that’s the same on and off the field,” Davis said. “When you see me in the mall, that’s how I’m going to be when I’m on the field or in the library and I’m always striving to maintain that.”