Justin Davis hasn't had his senior prom yet. He hasn't even turned 18. But what he has done is impress his new coaches and make his statement to be part of USC's running back rotation next fall.
"The young kid man, he's working his tail off," running backs coach Tommie Robinson said. "At his age and in this environment, he's out here with some of these guys who are 21, 22 years old and he's competing."
"Justin Davis had a great day today," added head coach Lane Kiffin, adding in a rare superlative for the Trojans' youngest player. Kiffin also named Davis the MVP of Thursday's practice.
Davis broke his finger two weeks ago, but was back at practice on Tuesday and missed just one practice because of Spring Break. Davis showed an outside burst unusual for a back of his 215-pound size, and received more snaps Thursday than USC's two healthy returning runners in D.J. Morgan and Buck Allen.
"That's one of the reasons I came in the spring," Davis said about his playing time during 7-on-7 and full scrimmages. "I knew I was going to get a lot of carries, and get a preview of what's going to happen in the future."
Rivals' 9th-ranked running back in the Class of 2013 and 62nd-ranked player overall, Davis has also seen his snaps increase after Silas Redd's torn meniscus ended his spring while Tre Madden is still recovering from his torn ACL last year. Morgan also hurt his knee towards the end of Thursday's practice, and could possibly miss time in the next few practices.
It's likely that Redd will be the Trojans' starter come fall, but Robinson's take on how the carries will be divvied up gives Davis a chance to become part of the mix.
"Right now, we don't have any starters," said Robinson, who comes to USC from the Arizona Cardinals to replace the fired Kennedy Polamalu. "Right now, everybody is the same. I'm the new guy, and they've got to all prove themselves to me."
Davis could project into becoming a third-down back as part of the Trojans' running back rotation. The 17-year-old is known to beat tacklers to the edge of the field, but his finest run Thursday was when he burst through a narrow gap, then plowed through a trio of defenders to find the end zone during the full scrimmage. Robinson spoke one-on-one for five minutes with his the Trojans' newest back after practice, giving Davis pointers on how to get utilize his size by getting lower with his running style.
Davis will need time to catch up with his older teammates and adjust to collegiate-level football, and knows Robinson won't be babying him through the adjustment.
"Coach Robinson is the coach that's going to focus on all the negatives, which is what a coach should be doing to make me better," Davis said. "He's making all my bad habits go away, and making me work really hard."
It looks like the aforementioned senior prom at Lincoln High School in Stockton might not be happening for Davis. He can thank USC's final exam schedule for that. But Davis says he doesn't regret enrolling early even for a second, and if spring performance is any indication, his on-field learning could put him in the spotlight earlier than expected.
Jacob Freedman covers the Trojans for the Daily Trojan and Neon Tommy. You can follow Freedman on Twitter at @Jacob_Freedman.