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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Texas freshmen provide local flavor

By Jeff Caplan
ESPNDallas.com

Texas wide receiver Mike Davis grew up in the shadow of the Cotton Bowl, and there was never mistaking what time of year it was by the parade of crimson and burnt orange that made its way to Fair Park.

He has attended only one Red River Rivalry, however, as an Oklahoma recruit during his junior year at Dallas' Skyline High School. He sat in a sea of Sooners, the crowd noise ringing in his ears.

Mike Davis
Freshman Mike Davis, who leads Texas in receptions, is questionable for the Red River Rivalry with a knee injury.

"It stayed loud the whole time," Davis remembered. "The game was good and they were really going after each other. I was just visualizing myself out there."

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, another true freshman in a heralded class that's making its mark for the Longhorns this season, was a senior at Plano West when he took in his first Red River Rivalry.

He was a Texas recruit and was immersed in the half of the Cotton Bowl drenched in burnt orange.

"It was mind-blowing because there were so many people and it was just cut in half, the red and burnt orange," Jeffcoat said. "The energy in the Cotton Bowl was just crazy."

Davis and Jeffcoat are among 12 true freshmen to have played this season, the most since coach Mack Brown came to Texas 13 years ago. Ten members of the Longhorns' freshman class hail from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, breeding a rare familiarity among new teammates.

Unfortunately for Davis, he might be resigned to watching his first Texas-OU game as a college player from the sideline. He is questionable with a left knee injury suffered in the first half of last week's ugly and unexpected loss to UCLA. Davis, who originally committed to LSU, anticipates some 100 of his family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances will be at the Cotton Bowl.

They'll surely miss the receiver Saturday afternoon if Davis can't play, but not nearly as much as No. 21 Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) will against the No. 8 Sooners (4-0).

After four games, Davis leads the Longhorns in receptions with 16 and touchdown catches with two. Davis' 183 receiving yards rank second. During a season in which the Longhorns have struggled to run the football consistently as they transition to a new offense and first-year starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert is getting his feet wet, Davis has been a bright spot.

"Mike Davis is high energy. He's very smart, he's competitive, he's driven and he's a guy that is very unique that can walk in here as a freshman and play like he's older," Brown said. "We're really excited about him, not only for this year, but the future."

Davis is a bit undersized at 6-foot-1 but caught seven passes in the home opener against Wyoming, taking one 45 yards for his first career touchdown after making a nifty pivot-spin move to elude a defender at about the 28-yard line.

"I just saw green and the touchdown and the fans and I just ran right through it," Davis said. "I heard everything, the cannon ball, and the fans. There's nothing like scoring a touchdown in Austin, 101,000 fans. It was real exciting for me."

Jeffcoat, the son of former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, and Davis have known each other since about the third grade through basketball leagues.

"A lot of us grew up playing against each other and just knowing each other," Jeffcoat said. "I've known Darius White [Fort Worth Dunbar] and Darius Terrell [DeSoto] for a while. Aaron Benson [Cedar Hill] is another guy I played against."

Jeffcoat is among the most riveting of the freshman class. He has played about 50 percent of the snaps, Brown estimated, and he's been so impressive that it's a foregone conclusion that he's set up to be a three-year starter once he replaces senior Eddie Jones next season.

Jackson Jeffcoat
Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is one of 12 true freshmen to see the field for Texas this year.

That is, unless the NFL comes calling first.

"We expected Jackson to be good in his freshman year and he's been better than we thought," Brown said. "He is mature. He's so much stronger than most freshmen coming out of high school and he's been able to take on the tight ends and offensive tackles that to this point have come to him, and he's been a really good pass-rusher.

"Jackson's driven to be a great college player and to someday play in the NFL."

At 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds, Jeffcoat already has the size to go along with agility and quickness to become a premier defensive end. He ranks 10th on the team in tackles, third in tackles for loss with five and third in sacks with 2.5.

He's tied for the team lead with six quarterback hurries and he's credited with one pass breakup, one pass defensed and a fumble recovery. On Saturday, he'll go up against a Sooners offensive line that coach Bob Stoops was billing as much improved entering the season.

"I'm just looking toward getting better with each game and try to be the best I can this year," Jeffcoat said. "This is the seniors' year and it's their year to go out with a big bang, so we're trying to have a great year."

A victory over the Sooners would be a giant step in the right direction.

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.