The 11-yard catch with the football game in the balance Saturday was impressive, Devante Davis fighting off a UNR defender to make the difficult touchdown grab.
In many ways, though, that kind of play has become expected of Davis, a physical wide receiver who seems to make that type of catch every week.
Perhaps more impressive was his earlier touchdown in UNLV’s 27-22 victory in Reno. Davis caught about a 10-yard pass and then ran away from cornerbacks and safeties to turn it into a 44-yard score.
That wasn’t the first time he separated himself from defenders to make a big play.
“You expect the big guys to go down there and be able to get their share of balls that are thrown up over the (defensive back),” coach Bobby Hauck said. “The thing that has impressed me the most when he’s caught the ball underneath and been able to get yards, convert first downs, make guys miss, run over guys, get tough yards. That’s something you don’t see out of a lot of big guys.”
Davis (6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds) has used the package of athleticism and strength — he raised his bench press by more than 100 pounds over the past year — to become one of the Mountain West’s top receivers.
Entering Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against San Jose State at Sam Boyd Stadium, Davis has 52 receptions for 785 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is in the top five in the conference in each category, including second to Fresno State’s Davante Adams’ 13 TD catches.
Davis also sits just one touchdown reception behind UNLV single-season record holder Sam Greene, who set the mark in 1980.
Predicting greatness can be tricky, but Davis showed early he had the potential to be a standout receiver. He was the only freshman in his 2011 recruiting class to play right away, even starting three times in catching four passes for 42 yards.
“Getting that experience made me more comfortable on the field going into my second year,” Davis said. “It was valuable to me. I didn’t have as productive a season as I may have wanted as a true freshman, but it was good to have that experience to know what I was up against training to get ready for my sophomore season.”
Davis showed his ability last year in that sophomore season, starting all 13 games and finishing with 61 receptions for 854 yards and four touchdowns. He was spectacular at times, catching eight passes for 186 yards at Louisiana Tech and seven for 145 yards against New Mexico.
The consistency, however, wasn’t there. He was held to four or fewer receptions five times.
The consistency is there this season.
He has caught at least eight passes in each of his past four games and at least seven in six games overall. Davis also has broken the 100-yard mark four times.
“Now I hold myself to a high standard to play at that level every week,” Davis said.
Quarterback Caleb Herring has developed a chemistry with the receiver, and often will throw to him even when covered. A defensive back hasn’t intercepted one of those passes yet, and Davis makes a habit of making the difficult catch.
“I kind of know when he’s in a good position, just from throwing it to him a lot,” Herring said. “He’s got great hands. Any time you’ve got a guy like that … with great hands, it’s pretty much a win-win when you throw it up with him.”
Davis said he worked on his strength in the offseason, increasing his bench to 315 pounds. His other strength numbers increased as well.
“You don’t get pushed around as much,” Davis said. “You can get to where you want instead of having a DB control you.”
Then there are the times Davis simply outruns defenders down the field.
That combination of size and speed makes him a potential NFL prospect, and as a junior, Davis could declare for the pros after this season.
But he probably would be a third-day draft pick. Davis could work himself into the first two days of the draft by staying another year.
“I think he’s got a future in that league if he keeps going,” Hauck said. “If he makes a jump like he did from last year to this year … that would be a big deal for him.”
Davis said he wouldn’t consider coming out early until after the season.
“I just want to focus on the season and play football,” Davis said. “I haven’t made a decision about that. I’m loyal to UNLV and our fans. I know they would love to see me back. I don’t really think about the NFL much.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.