Aspen’s Davis: A bruiser who believes |

Aspen’s Davis: A bruiser who believes

Aspen High's Jackson Davis, center, and teammates practice Wednesday. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

Aspen running back Jackson Davis doesn’t even see the hole. It’s nearly impossible to miss – a huge gap in the middle of the Summit defensive line after a block from a pulling Aspen guard levels a defensive tackle. Even the cheerleaders on the sideline can see where the running back should go. Still, Davis isn’t looking at the opening. His eyes are focused farther upfield, zeroing in on the Summit safety charging in to provide run support. Instinctively, Davis knows the hole is there. And he’s through it during the half-second it stays open. After a quick juke left to freeze the charging safety, Davis breaks right and runs untouched to the end zone. The 38-yard score with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter sparks the Skiers, who had been trailing, 28-0, before the dynamic run from their senior captain.On Aspen’s next defensive series, with the Tigers threatening again at the Aspen 26 yard line, Davis reads the quarterback’s eyes, then steps in front of a wobbly pass for an interception. Suddenly, he’s a running back again. He darts between Summit tacklers as he bolts 80 yards for another touchdown.Six turnovers are too much to overcome for the Skiers on this Saturday at home as Summit proves to be the better team in a 35-14 win. However, there’s no denying who the best player on the field is after the final seconds tick off the clock in the fourth quarter. That player wears number 22.Fast forward four weeks to today’s rivalry game between Aspen (1-4) and Basalt (2-4) and the same question arises. With Davis on one sideline, and the Longhorns’ electric back Ben Pollock on the other, the outcome of today’s game will likely be decided by which senior tailback has more success on the ground. Who is the best high school running back in Pitkin County? Anyone who cares to know can find out today starting at 1 p.m. at Aspen Middle School. The best part about the answer to that question is that both Pollock and Davis will have a say in how well the other runs. Each player starts in the defensive secondary for their respective teams, with Davis at rover and Pollock at cornerback.”Both teams have passed a little bit in the past couple weeks, but the run is going to establish who wins this game,” says Aspen head coach Travis Benson. “Whoever can get a running game going and whoever can stop the run is going to win. Turnovers will be key, but if I could see the game going one way or the other, that’s the two things that will decide it.”To focus in on Davis, and his gifts as a runner, it is readily apparent that he is the antithesis of Pollock.Pollock goes 5 feet 8 inches and weighs l40 pounds. Davis is an imposing 6-foot-1 and weighs 175. Pollock has been the surprise of the season, earning the job in Basalt’s second game after an injury to then-starter Tucker Hinchcliffe. Benson knew Davis was going to be his feature back in Aspen’s offense since the first day he took over as head coach. Pollock breaks most of his big runs by using his quickness to get around the edge of the defense. He also is shifty, typically throwing more than one move during a run. Davis has had some success on sweeps himself, but in general he likes to pound the ball inside. If he makes a move, it’s after he plows through the line and breaks into the open field.Davis’ size and power aren’t his best traits, however, Benson says. It’s the eyes. It’s the natural instinct.”He has the ability to find the seam,” the Aspen coach says. “The nice part about him is that he’s not really reading the hole, like a lot of running backs. It’s hard to teach that. They’re seeing the hole they’re running in, but he’s looking beyond the hole.”Both traits also come into play on defense. Through five games this season, Davis has rushed for six touchdowns. He’s also scored three defensive touchdowns off takeaways.Of course, the big 6-foot-1 frame does come in handy when there is no hole. It’s also nice when opposing offensive linemen are trying to level him after an interception.In the backfield, Davis says his mentality isn’t to hit a home run every time he touches the ball. The goal is to try and be effective on every play, not just one play every half.”Our offensive mentality is plus four [yards] every time,” Davis says. “That’s my goal for every play. If it opens up and I can go further than that, then great.”Benson says he likes to compare Davis to someone like Denver Broncos starter Mike Anderson – a big, strong bruiser of a back who eventually wears a defense down during the course of the game. Nothing too flashy. Sometimes, the yards aren’t pretty. But take one play off, and Davis will make you pay. A more fitting comparison for the Aspen senior back might be to another great Broncos runner who has the same last name – Terrell Davis. Like Terrell, Jackson has an uncanny ability to read cut-back lanes and also has a great burst when he gets loose. As for Davis’ qualities as a leader, he is a lot like Anderson. The Skiers have been plagued by turnovers during the team’s four-game stretch of losses, but Benson says his team fully believes it can knock off the Longhorns today at home. That belief starts with Davis.”He has really stepped forward this year as someone to carry this team directly on his shoulders,” Benson says. “His leadership style is directly portrayed by how he acts on the field. He shuts his mouth and goes to work.”A win today could be the turning point as Aspen heads into its final stretch. Davis says the game represents the most important 48 minutes of the Skiers’ season. “Not just because it’s homecoming, but just because we all need a win,” he says. “I think if we play well on offense and defense, we can definitely beat Basalt.”The wait to find out ends this afternoon.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is

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