The Virginia Cavaliers football team got off to a good start on Saturday afternoon as they won their season opener against the visiting Duke Blue Devils, 38-20. There were a lot of things to like as the Cavalier defense forced seven turnovers, the running game churned out 5.1 yards per carry, and quarterback Brennan Armstrong threw for 269 and two touchdowns.
Virginia’s brightest star, however, was first year wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. The 6-7, 210 pound freshman had four receptions for 101 yards and hauled in two fourth quarter touchdowns. It was the best debut for a Virginia freshman receiver in recent memory, and he earned the praise of his head coach and teammates alike.
“[Davis] wasn’t highly recruited and was kind of viewed as a project, but we loved him from the very beginning,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall told the media following Virginia’s win Saturday. “We see a really bright future for him as he learns and grows and develops.”
Davis, a Dorchester, South Carolina native, was rated a three-star recruit by the three major recruiting services (ESPN, Rivals, and 247Sports). Through one game, the Woodland High School player is already exceeding expectations. His first reception was an 18-yard pick up in the second quarter that gave the Hoos a first down on a drive that would end with Virginia’s first touchdown of the season.
After what looked like a huge reception by Davis early in the fourth quarter was overturned with a review, the rookie WR didn’t let himself get deterred. Instead, Armstrong found him again three plays later for a gorgeous catch in triple-coverage for 39 yards.
With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting summer workouts and fall practice, questions existed around the chemistry between Armstrong — a quarterback stepping up to fill the enormous shoes left behind by Bryce Perkins — and his receiving corps. Virginia lost outstanding receivers in Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois from last year’s squad, and questions existed around who would emerge as a target alongside Terrell Jana and transfer tight end Tony Poljan.
If you haven’t heard much about Davis to this point, that was kind of by design. “Yeah, it was one of our best kept secrets,” Mendenhall commented. “It’s hard to hide 6-7 for about 12 weeks in practice, but the same plays that he made tonight he’s been making against us almost every day.”
“I think we’ve been trying our best to instill confidence in him,” fourth year wide receiver Terrell Jana said after the game. “As a true freshman it’s hard to come out and make plays. My freshman year I didn’t do anything near what he’s doing, but he’s been doing it in practice a lot. Our thing was to keep reminding him to trust the preparation, trust the process.”
Davis’s performance is hopefully indicative of big things to come, and it is hard not to get excited when you compare him to former Virginia wide receivers in their first years. Joe Reed had just four receptions (77 total yards) all of his debut season in 2016. Hasise Dubois had eight catches for 99 yards.
There is a lot of football to be played this season (hopefully), but for now, Davis looks like the answer to a lot of questions in the receiving game.
“It was amazing seeing him catch those two touchdowns and making plays on offense,” Jana said. “We’re going to need that.”
Virginia will certainly need that this Saturday (October 3) as the Hoos head to Death Valley to take on No. 1 Clemson in a rematch of last season’s ACC Championship Game. Kickoff is set for 8pm on the ACC Network.