Friends defensive line coach Billy Beard has a booming, preacher’s voice. His words explode in the air, replete with a long, southern drawl that hearkens back to his eastern Texas roots.
And never is he more animated than when he talks about senior defensive end Dexter Davis, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior and the reigning KCAC defensive player of the year.
“He can’t be blocked by one man,” Beard said. “If you run away from him, he will chase it down in the backfield. If you put him in the nine-technique, he might steal the handoff.”
Last season, on his way to NAIA All-America honors, Davis had 14 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss for an astounding 151.5 yards. He also forced three fumbles and recovered three fumbles.
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Davis’ sack total was the third-highest single-season mark in league history and the most sacks by a KCAC player since 1993. Davis owns two of the top 10 single-season sack totals in league history after notching 11 in 2009, tied for sixth.
“From the minute he was a freshman here, from the minute he showed up on campus I put him under my wing,” Beard said. “And he was about 180 pounds. Looked like a wide receiver.”
The ascension from underweight freshman to All-American came under the watchful eye of Beard, a longtime assistant to Friends coach Monty Lewis.
“We threw Dexter in a game his freshman year and he just started making plays,” Beard said. “The next game, he was a starter. And he’s never stopped making plays.”
Davis followed his breakout freshman season with a lackluster sophomore year, and Beard talked him into not going home to Rex, Ga., for the summer and staying in Wichita to train with him. Under Beard’s tutelage, Davis packed on pounds and picked up speed, dropping his 40-yard dash time from the 4.7-second range to a hand-timed 4.47.
“When I went home after my freshman year, I worked out but I didn’t really push myself,” Davis said. “And my performance was a downgrade and I didn’t want to let that happen again.
“I didn’t mind being away from home or anything like that. I enjoy college life, I enjoy being here and working to get better.”
By the end of last summer, Beard was already starting to make predictions on his impact.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself, in the way I train athletes … so I knew he was in line for something big,” Beard said. “I was telling people I thought he’d get 20 sacks, but he ended up under that … although that’s with him getting played dirty. Offensive linemen would try anything to stop him, including the post and chop (block), which is most definitely illegal.
“Guys play him dirty. No offensive lineman can handle him one-on-one.”
Davis stayed in Wichita again this summer to train with Beard and is on track to graduate with a degree in physical education either next spring or winter. He’s got a stout supporting cast back on defense, including All-KCAC defensive back Jeff Kontz and second-team linebacker Marcus Carter.
Picked second by the media in the KCAC preseason poll and third in the coaches’ poll, the Falcons are trying to bring the league title back to Wichita for the first time since 2008.
“A lot of things we were doing wrong last year, they’re fixable,” Davis said. “We need to communicate more, to make sure we’re all on the same page because there were some games last year where we would just dominate and others where it seemed like we were completely lost.”
Part of the Falcons being on the same page will fall on Davis’ shoulders — Lewis wants his best player to become a vocal leader, too.
“He’s thrown himself into this football family for the last three years, and I want him to take the next step, the final step,” Lewis said. “He’s got to be more vocal for this team to be successful. When Dexter Davis speaks, I guarantee they will listen, and we’re going to need him to step into that role this year.”