TAMPA, Fla. -- The Hawkeyes practiced in a downpour on Sunday. When it was over and they were showered and in the ubiquitous sweatsuits, the operations staff had their meal set up just outside of a large room where the band practices at Jesuit High School.
The food looked gorgeous. There was ribs, beef and chicken. This was a moveable feast and Carl Davis had it all to himself.
The junior defensive tackle is a big fella at 6-5, 315 pounds. His body has undergone an metamorphosis since he arrived as a true freshman in 2010. He came in at 340 pounds, and he is loving life.
Davis' quick sense of humor was on display in front of all that food. He was asked if he'd every been to a Wafflehouse, a greasy chain in the south.
"I've been to it once," Davis said. "If I went now, you'd need a wheelchair to get me out."
This is the new Carl Davis. He's lighter of body and spirit. He's overcome his kneecap popping out of place twice in 2011 and the subsequent surgery. And he's finally met the big expectations that come with a big, big body.
"He's matured," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "He's done a good job understanding what he is. I still don't think his full potential has been reached yet. I think he sees that and understands that.
"I think he understands why we're pushing him. The kid can go out there and play 50 or 60 plays for us. Not all are great, but it's hard to move Carl. We're looking for him to reach higher."
There's really no stat for "presence," but Davis is a leader for the Hawkeyes in simply eating up space. That's the difference between middle linebacker James Morris running free to make a tackle or having to wrestle a 320-pound guard and try to make a tackle. Iowa sorely needed that in 2012, and Davis just wasn't yet there.
Perhaps the most tangible way to account for "presence" is the number of snaps played. Davis estimated he played 60 snaps in '12. This year, he's seen more than 600.
Maybe stay away from Wafflehouse, but that deserves an extended trip through the buffet after practice.
"I knew I could do it, but it was more of a mental barrier," said Davis, who 39 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks going into Iowa's Outback Bowl matchup with LSU. "As the season started going on, I played more and more. I'm still here now playing a lot of snaps."
The "hey, I can do this" moment for Davis came in Iowa's opener against Northern Illinois. Iowa City had seen record 100-degree heat leading up to the game. When it kicked off, the Kinnick Stadium FieldTurf soared to 165 degrees.
Davis went the distance and, hey, he could do this.
"It was like I was breathing heavy, but I wasn't tired," said Davis, a Sterling Heights, Mich., native. "That's just natural when you're running around, you're going to breath heavy. That's the mental barrier. You hear yourself breathing heavy and think you're tired, but no, you're not tired, you're just breathing heavy. I just learned how to push through."
Davis was sort of the mystery coming into the 2013 season. Iowa's D-line was pushed around in '12. Junior Louis Trinca-Pasat learned on the job last season. He was expected to come through at one tackle and he did (8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks). After Trinca-Pasat, the tackles were Darian Cooper, who saw some heavy minutes as a redshirt freshman, and redshirt freshman Jaleel Johnson, who was in his first season on the line of scrimmage.
Iowa kind of needed Davis to come through. And he did, with 600-plus snaps of directed, focused, educated and well-feed presence.
"Unless you're one of those guys that falls off the 'gifted truck,' for a lot of it's guys developing, really working through," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He's always had ability. That hasn't been an issue. It's just maturation, learning how to play, doing those types of things. The great thing about it is he can get so much better, and he will because he's got a good attitude, he's a delightful young guy. He gives us a little personality, too. He's got a little spirit to him."
This was the plan all along. In Davis' words, he was "just a guy" in 2012. Now, he's one of the guys."I still am a 'guy,' I think," Davis said. "I have a long ways to go. My goal is to be a great defensive player here at the University of Iowa."