Cory Robinson knew he didn't need to say much during the car ride home. The assistant coach could tell by the look in his player's eyes.
"If you want to get to the next level, you have to get in the weight room more," he remembered telling Da'Quan Davis after his sophomore season at Calvert Hall (Baltimore, Md.).
"Yes, sir," Davis told him.
Robinson didn't need to repeat himself. That brief conversation laid the foundation for the above-average cornerback to become great, to land at Penn State and compete for playing time this year as a true freshman.
In a week, Davis transformed into Calvert Hall's gym rat. He goaded his high school teammates -- including current Nittany Lions Trevor Williams and Adrian Amos -- to lift for an extra 45 or 60 minutes. He attended double weight-lifting sessions every day.
He was there when the coaches flipped on the lights and there when they crossed their arms and waited to head home. Davis wasn't yet one of the team's top players, but he made sure no one worked harder.
"He is the definition of a self-made man," said head coach Donald Davis (no relation). "Da'Quan came in here as the guy with zero acclaim; nobody knew he would be playing at Penn State one day. They just knew he always came in with a chip on his shoulder."
Cornerback Stephon Morris sensed that chip the moment the true freshman set foot on the practice field. Davis told him he wanted to leave Happy Valley as the school's best cornerback. Morris saw an intensity in Davis -- "You could just tell from the look in his eyes" -- and said everything was a contest with the freshman, even conditioning drills.
Nothing's changed, his high school coaches said.
"If one of his teammates spits, he'll have to spit further," Robinson said. "He competes at everything."
Bill O'Brien has heaped praise upon the freshman because of his work ethic, and Davis could be in line for more time on the field than any other first-year player. He's listed as a backup cornerback but is expected to play in nickel formations and could fill in for Amos if he slides to safety.
In high school, playing college football didn't seem like an option. Davis weighed in at 135 pounds his sophomore season and, Robinson acknowledged, played a little soft. After Robinson's brief-but-honest discussion on that car ride, though, Davis started making all the right changes.
By summer, the coaching staff debated whether Davis was ready to attend some 7-on-7s. They thought he needed more seasoning, but still opted to bring him to South Carolina.
"He dominated to the point South Carolina was close to offering him right there," Robinson said. "That's the first time I took notice that this kid could be a Division I-A guy."
By his senior season, he gained 35 pounds of bulk and that "soft" stigma was gone, replaced by a reputation as one of Baltimore's hardest-hitting defensive backs. He forced four fumbles and snagged four picks as a senior.
He has a long way to go before being mentioned on Penn State's list of best DBs. But his teammates are already taking notice.
"I expect a lot of big things out of that guy," safety Malcolm Willis said.