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September 3, 2012CHAPEL HILL - Quinshad Davis did exactly what everyone from the North Carolina coaches to the players expected in his college debut Saturday - he created excitement with a big play.
The freshman receiver from Gaffney, S.C., delivered one of the offensive highlights from the 62-0 season-opening victory against Elon at Kenan Stadium with a leaping catch of a tipped pass near the sideline in the first quarter.
"That's who he is. Those are the kind of things he's been doing in practice,'' UNC coach Larry Fedora said afterward of Davis' spectacular 18-yard catch that set up the Tar Heels' second touchdown of the afternoon.
Davis, a 6-foot-4, 185-pounder, was covered tightly by an Elon defender on the right sideline when quarterback Bryn Renner launched the pass.
The defender tipped the pass, but somehow Davis timed his jump so perfectly that the ball ricocheted into his hands. He managed to hold onto the ball despite the defender cutting his legs out from under him as they fell to the ground.
"Unbelievable. He bailed me out,'' Renner said. "I can't say enough about him. I went up to to him and said, 'Thanks man.'''
It would turn out to be Davis' only catch of the day - he was overthrown on a pass to the end zone later in the game. But the play was precisely the kind Fedora was hoping for from Davis when the Tar Heels won a major recruiting battle to sign him last February.
Rated the No. 2 prospect in the state of South Carolina by Rivals.com, Davis enjoyed an incredible senior season at Gaffney High School. He caught 108 passes for 2,009 yards and scored 25 touchdowns to earn South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year honors. That followed a junior year in which he made 94 catches for 1,481 yards and 16 scores.
Davis piled up those statistics in a spread offense similar to the one UNC is running this season, which is one reason he's adapted so quickly.
Dozens of schools offered Davis scholarships, including Clemson, Mississippi, N.C. State and South Carolina. But he eventually chose the Tar Heels over Tennessee and Wake Forest on national signing day.
Opportunity and receivers coach Gunter Brewer were two big reasons the Tar Heels won the battle for Davis.
"I thought I could get a little bit of playing time coming here,'' Davis said after Saturday's opener. "I knew I probably wasn't going to start over two seniors (Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd). But came here knowing I'd probably get a little playing time.
"Coach (Gunter) Brewer was another big reason. I felt like he could help me take my game to the next level. They way he is, his body language, the he way he talks, it just makes you want to come play for him.''
Davis' chance to play for Brewer and compete for playing time got off to a slow start at UNC when he was held out of more than a week of preseason practice while awaiting medical clearance.
No specific details of the issue have been given by the school, and Davis was vague when asked about it Saturday.
"It was just a medical issue. I don't really know,'' he said. "They just kept telling me it was a medical issue. I was never nervous. I was just ready to get in there and get my shine on.''
While he waited for clearance, Davis spent time learning the offensive playbook and catching "250 to 400'' balls a day on his own to stay ready.
"It hard to sit out of the game you love,'' Davis said. "But I just tried to stay focused.''
Davis said he finally received the approval to start practice from UNC's Director of Sports Medicine and football team physician, Dr. Mario Ciocca, and trainer Scott Oliaro.
"I was so happy,'' he said. "I was probably the first one in the locker room that day to put on my stuff.''
Davis has been impressing everyone since with his big-play abilities and consistency. "I dropped like one pass over the course of camp, so I'm a sure-handed guy,'' Davis said. But again, making big plays is nothing new for Davis, who has been playing football since he was five years old.
His father, James Davis, signed him up for recreation football at that age and Quinshad has been shining ever since.
"I was always taller than most kids, so I started out playing with the older groups,'' he said. "I did pretty good and I've been loving it ever since.''
The experience gained from those years on the gridiron have made Davis a confident, yet not cocky player.
"You've got to have confidence in yourself,'' he said. "I know I'm a freshman, but I feel like I'm good enough to play against anybody. I've always been a leader on my teams. That confidence just comes naturally.''
But even Davis admitted that confidence gave way to a bundle of nerves as he prepared for his college football debut Saturday.
"I was very nervous from the get go,'' Davis said. "When we did the Well Walk, my heart started pounding out of my chest. But once we ran out of the tunnel and I saw the people everywhere, all that just went away. I told myself, 'It's time to play now. It's time for everybody to see why they've been talking about me so much.'''
Davis didn't disappoint.
"He's a great player,'' Renner said. "He always wants the ball, so he's begging for it. He's going to be a great contributor for us this season.''