IOWA CITY — Keenan Davis has bulked up and filled out. A couple of decades ago, he might have played outside linebacker for a Big Ten school.
But the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Iowa sophomore is fitting in just fine at wide receiver. He gained 15 pounds from last year after a season under Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. As a result, Davis is much more sanguine entering his second season at Iowa.
“It was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to all of us,” said Davis, talking about the off-season strength and conditioning program. “You put in as much as you get out of it. So when you go out there, you just bust your butt and you’re going to get stronger. Coach Doyle puts that in our heads. I think that’s the biggest thing and hardest thing to do.
“If you do it correctly and work your heart out, you are going to see the differences in your body on the field and confidence.”
Davis, a Cedar Rapids native, played sparingly as a true freshman last year. He got on the field for every game, but caught only four passes for 55 yards. He hauled in a 10-yard touchdown reception against Iowa State and returned one kickoff for 11 yards.
If there’s one change — outside of the obvious weight gain — it’s that Davis appears more self-assured within the offense. As a freshman, he said he constantly thought about where he was supposed to be on each play. After a year of repetition and work with Iowa’s quarterbacks, Davis said he can read the defense before he gets into his route.
“I knew what I was doing, but it was fast,” Davis said. “Everybody would probably say the same thing as a freshman. Now it slows down, you can see everything. You can actually be that player that they recruited and you saw what they did in high school.”
Davis was one of Iowa’s most highly decorated athletes coming out of Cedar Rapids Washington in 2009. He competed in the Under Armour All-American Game and was a Super Prep Top 100 as a senior. At Washington he caught 169 passes for 2,602 yards and 26 touchdowns, while picking off eight passes on defense. He also helped Washington win the Class 4A state track crown as a senior.
Although Davis’ contributions last year were modest, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz compared Davis’ efforts to former Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds, who also played as a true freshman. Edds played in only nine games and had only nine tackles, but his on-field playing experience vaulted him into a team leadership role by the team he was a sophomore.
“(Davis has) really taken a step, and that’s good,” Ferentz said. “ That’s part of, I’ m not saying it’s the A.J. Edds story, but it’s a little bit like that. He played last year — not a lot of reps during the course of the season — but I think that year really helped. He’s done a nice job, I think, this out-of-season. He’s back a lot more mature and confident in his actions. He’s had a good camp.”
Davis, 19, is listed as a second-team receiver, alongside senior Colin Sandeman, behind senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and junior Marvin McNutt. Davis said he’s “more in with the crew” this year off-the-field as much as on it. He’s learned from Iowa’s veterans and made a favorable impression upon them.
“He’s a year older, and he’s smarter on the field,” McNutt said. “As a young freshman it was kind of hard to get the whole system down in one year, but he’s definitely a lot stronger and a lot faster. His playmaking ability is always impressive.”