Figuring out Rogers High School senior Fred Davis isn't easy - on or off the football field.
After the first day of conditioning for the Rams on July 28, Davis was asked his primary goals for his final high school season. “Just to be a team leader,” he replied. “That's what I'm trying to work on now. Show up for practice every day, on time, and be an example for my teammates and try to help them get better.”
This was after he had overslept and arrived at 11:20 a.m. for the scheduled 9 a.m.-to-noon session.
In the classroom at Rogers, Davis started slowly and admits that he didn't put much effort into his studies throughout his freshman and sophomore years, at which point he carried a cumulative grade-point average of around 2.0.
Now, after turning over a new academic leaf and attending summer school, he has lifted that mark above 2.5, according to coach Rick Rios, and plans to graduate ahead of schedule in January.
On the field, Davis can also occasionally be a contradiction.
“He makes the acrobatic, one-handed catch over three people, and then will be wide open and drop an easy one right to him,” Rios said.
All things considered, however, there are no mixed signals when it comes to the ability of Fred Davis as an athlete. He is one of the most talented and highly coveted high school football talents in the United States from the Class of 2004, and arguably Toledo's most prominent prospect ever.
Davis is ranked the No.3 recruit among wide receivers in the nation, behind Early Doucet of Saint Martinville High School in Louisiana and Xavier Carter of Palm Bay High School in Melbourne, Fla.
For the record, Fast Freddie stands a shade over 6-4, weighs 215 pounds and was timed at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash January 2003 at the All-American Combine in San Antonio, Texas. But the size/ speed combination did not turn as many heads as Davis' ability to go up after a ball in a crowd and make plays.
He certainly made plenty of them for the Rams last season, rushing 151 times for 1,071 yards (7.1 yards per carry), catching 35 passes for 538 yards (15.4 per catch), returning eight punts for 167 yards and totaling a City League-best 26 touchdowns. Davis also contributed 80 tackles and two interceptions as a cornerback.
If Davis stays healthy this season, with the Rams embarking on what promises to be a less-than-challenging regular-season schedule overall, those numbers may easily be surpassed.
Aside from a chase for enough victories to net a City League title and/or enough computer points to receive a playoff berth, the key number Davis is focusing on is five.
That is the number of colleges he can select for official recruiting visits. Currently, his plan includes Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma and Southern Cal, with the final trip being narrowed to other national powers like Penn State, Florida, Texas and Tennessee.
Davis has scholarship offers from all the above, plus many others from the higher echelon of college football. This makes him Toledo's top recruiting target for football in at least 15 years, and possibly ever.
In February of 1988, running back Chuck Webb of the former Macomber High School picked Tennessee over Southern Cal, Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska after a lengthy and high-profile recruitment process.
Webb burst into the college spotlight during his redshirt freshman season at Tennessee in 1989, earning All-Southeastern Conference honors by rushing for 1,236 yards in 10 games. He set a Tennessee single-game rushing mark of 294 yards against Mississippi and capped that season with a 26-carry, 250-yard performance in the Vols' 31-27 win over Texas A&M in the 1990 Cotton Bowl. Entering his sophomore season he was rated by some experts as the nation's top running back.
But Webb's promising career, which had already been stained by a forgery charge resulting in probation, was interrupted and effectively derailed by a knee injury early in the 1990 season.
Before Webb, Terry Crosby and Farley Bell of DeVilbiss High School (1975) were each courted by major programs. Bell, a lineman, picked Ohio State. Crosby, who like Davis was a multi-talented 6-4 running back/defensive back known to make spectacular plays, ultimately opted to play basketball at Tennessee.
Although several Toledoans have played at top college programs and even advanced to NFL careers - such as Myron Bell (Macomber, Michigan State, Pittsburgh Steelers) and Jeremy Lincoln (DeVilbiss, Tennessee, Chicago Bears) - none, including Webb, garnered the level of attention that Davis has received.
Much of this can be attributed to the fact that Davis plays in an era of vastly improved nationwide communication via the Internet, more comprehensive nationwide scouting of athletes and more thorough recruiting publications and Web sites.
Crosby and, to a lesser degree, Webb played when word of mouth within coaching circles was the more prominent message vehicle, and when recruiting athletes was much more of a regional process.
Davis' name hit the recruiting circles after his freshman year when he ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash in a camp at Ohio State. The Texas combine after his junior season took him to the top of recruiting heap. Now, Davis, who says he'll take plenty of time to make his college decision, hopes to enroll early and participate in spring practice at the school he picks.
“I want to get a good start,” Davis said of his early graduation plan, “come in [to college] early and go from football to football. I'll probably be a little tired, but I want a chance to get into spring practice and have whatever school I choose see what I can do.”
The downside of early graduation would be that Rogers will lose its leading scorer and rebounder from the basketball team in the winter, and one of its best track and field performers in the spring.
Rios isn't looking forward to the end of Davis' career at Rogers, but he won't miss all the hassles that go with being the coach of a top recruit, especially the loads of mail and the countless phone calls from schools, recruiting publications and Web sites. Rios said Davis has remained relatively grounded throughout the process.
“The neat thing about Fred is that he's still somewhat humble,” Rios said. “He knows he has things to work on to get better, like running his routes correctly and his concentration. When we asked him if we've gotten everything out of Fred Davis that we possibly could, he said, `No. I can still get a lot better.'
“Yes, Fred's ego has gotten a little bigger with all the attention he's gotten. But he has big goals and he's starting to get the big picture. If anything, the pressure [of being a top recruit] is good for him.
“He knows that there hasn't been a kid from Toledo that's gotten this kind of national attention in a long time. So there's pressure not only to perform well on the football field, but also in the classroom and in the community, because everybody's eyes are on him.”
The last potential obstacle for Davis on the way to college football, aside from avoiding injuries, is qualifying academically. He acknowledges that he needs to improve his grade-point average and/or ACT scores slightly to qualify to play as a freshman.
Once he's in, Davis hopes to have chosen the correct fit.
“I want to go to a school where I feel comfortable. I want to go to a school with a good team that runs a good offense that fits me, and where I have a chance at playing my first year.”
For now, Davis is anxious to hit the field on game night.
“I never get tired of playing football. I've been waiting for this year to get started since right after last football season ended. I can't wait to play again.”
Like last year, Rios plans to utilize Davis in as many ways as possible and as many times as possible.
“As many as it takes,” the coach said. “We're going to do what's best for Rogers High School, and that means getting the ball in Freddie's hands. As a team, we feel we have an opportunity to do something special this year. Whether or not we take care of business is another story. But the opportunity is there.”