Taj Davis can pinpoint the position meeting where everything changed.
It took place on April 19, 2021, in a room off the side of the Husky Stadium tunnel. Following the Washington Huskies’ eighth practice of the spring, Junior Adams asked for an extra word with his redshirt freshman wide receiver.
“He actually held me after the position meeting we had, and he just sat me down and told me he wanted to see more from me, because he knew there was more in me,” Davis said Tuesday, sitting in that same room more than five months later.
“He kind of just called me out, the way I was moving at practice. From that point on I kind of flipped a switch in my head and started accomplishing each and every goal, step by step. It led me here.”
It led him to a previously unimaginable moment — where Davis leads the Huskies in catches (19) and receiving yards (257) through his first four games. (The Chino, California, native ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in both categories as well.)
He set a goal to run with the Husky starters in practice, and he accomplished it.
He set a goal to catch five passes in the season opener against Montana, and he accomplished that, too — notching six catches for 59 yards.
But on April 19, 2021, Davis faced a fork in the road — and the path he took seemed a lot less likely.
“I’m so proud of Taj,” said Adams, UW’s third-year wide receivers coach. “If you were to ask me after day eight in spring ball about Taj, I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t know how it’s going to go.’ I really didn’t. Taj would tell you this: I held him after a meeting, after day eight, and I told him what I saw. Seriously, he’s been rolling since day nine.
“He’s been getting better every day. He’s taken the next step as far as what we work on as far as the drills and applying it to the skill portion of the game. It’s just like anything else: He’s playing with confidence. He’s believing in what we’re doing and his skills. He’s turning into a really good player for us and he’s reliable, and that’s really good to see. He’s taken advantage of his opportunities as well.”
Not bad for a three-star wide receiver ranked by 247Sports.com as the No. 74 player in California in 2019.
Not bad for a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder who didn’t play a single down as a true freshman the following fall.
Not bad for a guy who opted out of the 2020 season due to what he called “a medical reason,” forcing him to attend classes remotely in California and watch all four games from home.
“It was very tough for me,” Davis said of that experience. “At first it was real hard seeing my brothers out there playing without me. Even if it was me just being on the sideline, I just wanted to be there. But I moved on, and I’m here now.”
The same cannot not be said of everyone else.
Five Washington wide receivers — Puka Nacua (BYU), Ty Jones (Fresno State), Austin Osborne (Bowling Green), Marquis Spiker (Portland State) and Jordan Chin (Sacramento State) — transferred from the program this offseason, leaving the position precariously thin.
Four more wide receivers — Terrell Bynum, Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk — missed most or all of the Montana game with an injury.
Which meant a redshirt freshman who couldn’t even stand on the sideline last fall was suddenly tasked with making his first career start.
“Mentally, I was preparing like I was starting. Physically, I was preparing like I was starting,” Davis said. “So when the time came and I was really starting, I was ready. I’m going to continue to stay ready.”
He was certainly ready on UW’s second offensive drive in last weekend’s 31-24 win over Cal, when quarterback Dylan Morris took a shotgun snap and looked his way. With cornerback Collin Gamble hanging off his back like a cape, Davis snared the pass and dived into the end zone for a 19-yard score.
“Honestly, that was probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve had,” Davis said of the first touchdown of his college career, which came against a team he nearly committed to. “It was just a splurge of energy. It was good. I see the pictures now and I see that Jalen, Rome, TB (Terrell Bynum), they’re all around me. So it was good having all my guys around me in that moment and being able to celebrate that with them.”
That, too, stems from the UW wide receivers’ position meetings — where Adams introduced the African philosophy of “mbuntu,” which means, “I am because we are.”
Davis’ success is McMillan’s success. McMillan’s success is Odunze’s success. Odunze’s success is Bynum’s success.
Since April 19, 2021, Davis has had plenty of success to share.
“He’s probably our most improved player from last year,” UW offensive coordinator John Donovan said Tuesday. “From spring to now, the guy is just locked in. The first game, I think he was like, ‘It’s for real. I’m having fun. I really like this.’ He’s just hit the ground running. It’s hard to get him off the field.
“We’ve got a few good guys there now, as you guys know. He’s earned the right to stay in the lineup some way, somehow. So I’m so impressed with the way he’s improved since I first got here to now. It’s unbelievable. It’s a credit to him.”
As Donovan alluded to, Bynum, McMillan and Odunze all returned from injury in time for Pac-12 play. Bynum registered five catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in the 31-10 loss at Michigan. McMillan broke out in the 52-3 win over Arkansas State, posting 10 catches for 175 yards and a score. Odunze made his season debut against Cal, contributing three catches for 56 yards.
On Montlake, “mbuntu” means something.
But don’t expect Davis to stop knocking out goals.
“A big goal of mine is to get that first 100-yard game,” said Davis, whose Huskies travel to Oregon State on Saturday. “I was really close against Arkansas State. I had 94 yards. But I’m going to get it. I’m going to get the 100.”