YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


The Pit Boss

USC Defensive Tackle Ennis Davis Rules the Middle


Time flies when you're having fun. That's part of the problem for Ennis Davis.

"Everything is going so fast," he said.

Not only has Davis become a fixture on the USC defensive line in his redshirt sophomore season, he has also become the Trojans' workhorse since senior Marc Matock went down with an ankle injury.

The new kid in the pit has responded by leading the team with seven tackles for 15 yards in losses in six games.

"It's good to see him out there," said Chris Claiborne, his friend and teammate at middle linebacker. "His quickness off the ball, that's what separates him from other guys."

Still, Davis is having a little trouble keeping up with the thrills and chills of his first season as a starter.

"This has been a great season so far," he said. "But sometimes the games go by so fast."

It wasn't all that long ago Davis played for Reseda High. He was known as "The Intimidator" then, and not just because he was 6 feet 4 and 305 pounds.

As a junior, he put a one-man hurting on Monroe, collecting several sacks, blocking a punt and recovering a fumble. As a senior, he had 11 solo tackles, recovered a fumble and forced a fumble against Poly.

The Regents won the City Section 3-A Division championship that season and Davis was selected to several All-America teams.

But high school football is a long way from the college game and critics claimed Davis was too slow to make the transition. His coach disagreed.

"He is a gut-level, emotional-type football player," Reseda Coach Joel Schaeffer said in 1996. "He has good lateral movement, good pursuit and good speed for a big kid. He can chase down people and make a lot of tackles on the wide side of the field."

Even so, no one could argue Davis carried too much weight. Even he knew it.

"In high school, I was faster than most of the offensive linemen I played against, and I was stronger, so it wasn't too hard," he said the summer before arriving at USC. "[But] next [season] they'll all be faster and stronger, too."

The point was driven home the first time Davis stepped into the Trojan weight room with older players.

"They were huge," he recalled. "All muscle."

They also had to take weights off the bar every time it was Davis' turn to lift. The freshman, who ended up using a redshirt season in 1996 because of a sprained right ankle, knew what had to be done.

Davis became a regular in the weight room, showing up for extra work on Fridays while active players prepared for the game the next day. He began running, something he'd rarely done at Reseda, trimming the fat from his body and replacing it with muscle.

At the start of the 1997 season, a sculpted Davis got his first real taste of Division I football in the opener against highly ranked Florida State.

"I saw I could play with these guys," he said. "It was hard but . . . I knew I was moving in the right direction."

The coaches used him as a backup to Cedric Jefferson, playing him in parts of all 11 games. He finished with 15 tackles, including a four-tackle performance against Washington. The stage was set for Davis to become a starter when Coach Paul Hackett and a new staff arrived on campus.

"Ennis had lost a considerable amount of weight," defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said. "He's better at the mechanics of his position. He's become more active."

Never more so than in the Trojans' 35-24 victory over Arizona State two weeks ago.

It was during that game Matock, the mainstay of a defensive line that lacks depth, broke his left ankle. Davis--battling Sun Devil center Ken Ruegamer, a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award--had a breakthrough performance with six tackles, a blocked field goal and a forced fumble.

Included in those statistics was a pivotal play: Late in the game, with USC holding a slim lead, Davis sacked Arizona State quarterback Chad Elliott.

"We ran a stunt and I ended up on the tackle and kind of bulled him," Davis recalled. "The quarterback rolled my way. It was awesome."

But the young man has discovered it takes more than physical strength and agility to play every down. There is a kind of mental stamina that comes only with experience.

Davis was one of several defensive players who were disappointed in their play during a stunning loss to California last week. The Trojans blew a 31-10 third-quarter lead, losing 32-31.

"I was trying to get going the whole game," Davis said. "The next thing I knew, the game was over."

It wasn't so much a matter of conditioning or technique. It was a matter of inexperience.

"This is his first year playing every down and it's hard," Claiborne said. "He's just got to get used to that."

There is plenty of time.

Orgeron expects Davis to improve at working against double-teams and traps this season and next.

Claiborne, a probable top-10 selection in the NFL draft in the spring, expects Davis to join him soon enough.

Davis, for his part, is in a hurry to get better right now.

"I've got to capitalize," he said. "This is my time."

Los Angeles Times Articles