It was a simple play that should have produced ordinary results. It was just an inside zone play that Knile Davis was running to the left.
But when Arkansas’ star running back took off, he lost balance and fell. Shortly after, another player came crashing down onto his awkwardly planted left leg. Within seconds, excruciating pain shot through his ankle and panic set in.
“I was shocked,” Davis said. “I couldn’t believe it happened. It was just bad luck, man.”
Davis, who had injured his right ankle twice before, then found out just how bad his luck was.
He didn’t think his injury was too serious at first, but refused to put weight on his leg. Once he stripped the tape away from his ankle and saw his foot lifelessly dangling, he knew his ankle was broken.
Davis missed the entire 2011 season only months after ending his 2010 campaign as the SEC’s hottest back, rushing for 1,119 yards and 12 touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ last eight games. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark in six of those games.
Nearly a year removed from his devastating injury, Davis says he’s one step away from being completely ready for the fall. He’s gone through extensive rehab, both mentally and physically, dealt with frustration and pity, but there’s one more stage that he’s yet to complete: contact.
Even though Davis said he was 100 percent this spring, Arkansas’ coaches kept him away from contact as a precaution. The frustrated Davis was left to only go through the motions, but he’ll go through much more in the coming weeks, and he can’t wait.
“Once I get through that,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”
It’s been a long road back for the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list member. He went from being a certified beast to crippled in a matter of seconds. He went from punishing defenses to limping around sidelines in street clothes.
The hardest part, Davis said, was the feeling of not being able to help.
“It was tough watching him because you knew he wanted to be out there,” quarterback Tyler Wilson said.
During his time away from the football field, Davis didn’t develop any new habits and he rarely enjoyed himself. He completely immersed himself in watching/dissecting film to raise his football IQ and rehabbing -- lots of rehabbing.
“I didn’t have any fun until I could run and cut,” he said.
Used to sprinting past and sometimes over defenders, Davis began rehab struggling to hop over a line drawn on the ground by head trainer Matt Summers, who practically became a brother during Davis’ rehab. By late October, he was jumping onto a mini trampoline and was jumping on top of exercise boxes by the LSU game.
By late November, Davis “really” could do both. That’s when speculation began that he might play, but Davis knew he wasn’t truly ready and never asked for the chance because he didn’t want to be a distraction.
Once the season was over, Davis seriously considered leaving for the NFL after his draft feedback had him going in the late second or early third round. But after extensive conversations with his mother and Arkansas’ staff, he decided to stay and finish his Arkansas career “the right way.”
And he thinks he’ll be even better and will make Arkansas’ offense even more lethal.
“We’ve always been able to throw it,” interim coach John L. Smith said. “We can throw it with the best of people, but we’ve got to be able to step up and run it to win.
“His coming back this year should provide that piece of the puzzle that we really, really need.”
And Davis has no problem stating that he’ll have a profound impact on Arkansas’ offense. He might have missed all of last season, but he still believes he’s the best at his position -- even with Marcus Lattimore returning and Christine Michael entering the league.
"Still the best," Davis said with a smile. "I'm still the best running back in the SEC. I think they're good, but I feel like I'm the best because of the things I put into it. I bring everything to the game. I don't want to say I don't have a flaw, like I'm perfect, but I don't think you can find a better running back."
With Lattimore and Michael also returning from season-ending injuries, Davis said all three are on equal footing, making the race to the top that much more exciting.
“It’s fair game for all of us,” he said. “It’s all about who’s the closest to 100 percent.
“I hope they’re ready.”