CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland football coach Ron Crawford has a message for anybody doubting either the speed or the talent of receiver Tyler Davis: Do so at your own risk.
The 6-foot-3, 173-pound senior has had a breakout season for the 7-3 Blue Raiders, helping them return to the Class 5A state playoffs, which begin Friday. Both Davis and Crawford said his looks may be deceiving, but the "skinny white kid," as he's referred to by the second-year Cleveland coach, has 4.42 speed in the 40-yard dash.
After spending most of his junior season battling injuries, he has become a solid co-No. 1 option at wideout with D.J. Jones.
Davis caught 32 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. This year he has 37 catches and erupted for 829 yards and eight scores. The receiving yardage leads the Raiders, while the reception and touchdown totals are second to Jones.
"I don't think people know my speed. They know that D.J. has speed, but they might not realize I have it, too, because I was hurt some last year," Davis said. "I think that some guys look at me and probably think I'm nothing."
Some of the Raiders' biggest opponents have seen firsthand his big-play abilities. He had a 95-yard touchdown reception against Ooltewah, a 48-yard score on a slant pass against Bradley Central that turned out to be the game-winner and a 40-yard touchdown against East Hamilton.
"He's such a great threat downfield. I don't think that you appreciate how fast he is until you play against him," Crawford said. "Once he gets his fundamentals down, he'll be even better."
The Raiders are back in the playoffs after a two-year absence, and they'll travel to Sparta to take on White County (8-2) in the Class 5A first round. It will be the Warriors' first-ever home playoff game, and it will be against an opponent that hasn't won a playoff game in 11 seasons.
"I think it's been a great season so far -- both individually and as a team," Davis said. "Last year was disappointing because we didn't make the playoffs. Every game matters from this point on. I hear some people say there's pressure on this game, but we don't take any team for granted. White County won eight games this season, and that's not always easy to do.
"It's my last year and I hope that we can make memories. We want to go as far as we can go."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.