When Nick Davis came to Wisconsin this fall he knew his best chance to make an impression on coach Barry Alvarez was to excel as a return man. The Badgers were last in the Big Ten in kickoff and punt returns in 1997, and Davis, a 5'10", 180-pound freshman from Manchester, Mich., quickly proved he was the explosive special teams player Wisconsin desperately needed. Last Saturday he returned his second punt of the year for a touchdown, going 82 yards in the first quarter of the Badgers' 24-3 win over Penn State, a victory that gave Wisconsin a share of the Big Ten title and all but assured a trip to the Rose Bowl. Here's Davis's account of the play.
The ball seemed to hang in the air forever. I was trying to decide whether to signal for a fair catch when I saw I had some room. As soon as I caught the ball, I noticed my teammates Willie Austin and Carlease Clark take out the sprinters on either side of me, and I took off up the field.
I ran straight ahead for 10 yards, and then as I tried to cut to my right, I felt myself stumble a bit. I kept thinking, Don't fall down, and I did everything I could to keep my balance. Thankfully I stayed on my feet and ran up a lane my blockers had cleared along the right sideline. Near the 40-yard line I started looking for the kicker. As he came into view, I watched Donte King lay him out and another guy throw a great block at the 50.
My mind was racing, and my eyes opened up when I saw nothing but the end zone. Before the game I knew that one big play on special teams could turn the game around, and as I approached the goal line, I grew more and more excited. I told myself to go faster because there was no way I wanted to be caught from behind. As soon as I crossed into the end zone, I threw up my hands, and I really don't remember what happened after that because it was so crazy.
Growing up, I used to fantasize about making the big play in the big game, but what happened on Saturday was beyond my wildest dreams. Playing a large part in winning a championship is something I'll never forget.