In that freshman season of 2009, Davis saw limited action, rushing for 163 yards on 33 carries. "But in practice, holy cow, we all knew something big was going to happen with Knile," says senior receiver Cobi Hamilton. "He always ran like he had something to prove."
Davis started the final six games of 2010. Facing some of the nation's top rushing defenses over that stretch—South Carolina (12th), Mississippi State (15th) and Ohio State (third)—he rushed for 852 yards on 138 attempts, an average of 6.17 yards per carry. He'd finally figured out the secret to being an effective running back: To go far, you need to slow down.
"It finally dawned on me after watching tons of film that I was just rushing into the line and not waiting for my blocks," he says. "Before, I was just a wild runner, but then I started using my mind, waiting for holes to open up, being patient. I started being smart.
"I started thinking about what Warren would tell me to do."
It's a sunny afternoon in Fayetteville, and Davis is riding shotgun in an SUV. Through the windows he sees Reynolds Razorback Stadium towering in the distance. He is in good spirits; a bone-density test recently revealed that his core bone strength is above normal. For precautionary reasons, though, coaches will hold him out of the team's first scrimmage two days later.
As the SUV rolls closer to the stadium, Davis's brown eyes stay locked on the bleachers. "Even though I missed last year with the ankle injury, I was told by many that I would have been a second- or third-round pick in the [NFL] draft," he says softly. "It was tempting [to leave early] because my family could use the money. But Pops always told me that great rewards await those who take the hard road. That's what I believe."
A few hours later Davis donned his red number 7 jersey and hit the field for a spring practice. Midway through the workout, in an 11-on-11 drill, Davis received a handoff. He cut to his right, paused, saw no hole, then bolted to his left. Juking a linebacker, he cut up the center of the field, and then, as if twin boosters had been ignited, he dashed into the end zone. He did so with such speed and ease that even Petrino flashed a smile, his first of the afternoon. (On Sunday, Petrino was involved in a motorcycle crash outside of Fayetteville. He was taken to a hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.)
"Hopefully this is just the beginning," Davis says later that evening as he walks out of the football complex and into the night. "I've got a long way to go for Pops. Long way to go."