Corey Davis makes a point to count his blessings every day.
Once a long shot to qualify for an FBS scholarship, Davis improved his academics as a prep senior and has developed into an All-MAC wide receiver and NFL prospect for Western Michigan. He helped head coach P.J. Fleck’s 14th-ranked Broncos (13-0) beat Ohio on Friday to win the MAC Championship game 29-23 at Ford Field in Detroit.
That propelled the Broncos into the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked champion from the Group of 5 conferences — American Athletic, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. The will play Wisconsin on Jan. 2 in Arlington, Texas. Western Michigan has beaten two Big Ten teams this season — Illinois and Northwestern — for the first time in school history.
Davis also made history this season. The 6-3 senior caught eight passes for 81 yards and a touchdown against Toledo last week to surpass Nevada’s Trevor Insley as the all-time leading receiver in FBS history with 5,068 yards. The projected first-round NFL draft pick is also now the first FBS player with 300 receptions, 5,000 yards and 50 TDs in a career. WMU also created a website, CoreyDavis84Heisman.com, to promote him for the top award in college football.
“It felt pretty good to look back and see how far I’ve come, not only as a player but as a person,” said Davis, who also holds the career school and MAC records for receiving yards, catches (318) and TD receptions (50). “It’s a blessing. I thank God every day for the position I’m in, and I wouldn’t be in this position if coach Fleck hadn’t taken a shot on a kid that no one else would.”
That’s right, academic issues left Davis without an FBS scholarship offer despite his tall, rangy frame and having an older brother, Titus, who was an All-MAC receiver for Central Michigan. Then Fleck got the WMU job and signed the two-star recruit from outside Chicago.
In their first season together, WMU finished 1-11 in 2013 as Davis was named the MAC Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American. Davis earned first-team all-conference honors each of the next two seasons as he combined for 2,844 yards and 27 TDs on 168 catches to help the Broncos to eight wins and bowl game berths both years. Last year the program earned its first bowl win as Davis had 183 receiving yards, including an 80-yard TD, on eight catches against Middle Tennessee in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
The decision to return for his senior year instead of going pro has paid off as it’s been a record-setting campaign for Davis—who has 83 receptions for 1,283 yards and 17 TDs this season — and the Broncos. He leads the FBS this season in TD catches and is seventh in receiving yards. Earlier this week he was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year. All-America accolades should soon follow.
According to Fleck, Davis is the hardest-working receiver he’s been around besides Vincent Jackson, a Pro Bowl wideout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fleck, a standout receiver at Northern Illinois who played briefly in the NFL, coached Tampa Bay’s wide receivers for a year before landing at WMU.
“The greatest wide receiver of all-time in the history of college football, statistically, is right here in little, old Kalamazoo, Michigan,” Fleck said after last week’s win over Toledo. “He’s not little, though.”
Davis credits his teammates, especially a strong connection with senior quarterback Zach Terrell, for much of his big-play success. This season Terrell has completed nearly 72 percent of his passes for 3,086 yards and 30 TDs to only one interception (the best TD-interception ratio in FBS recorded history) for a squad averaging 44.8 points per game.
“That chemistry has been building since I got here,” Davis said. “Zach is a tremendous quarterback, and he definitely makes my job a lot easier. He’s a tough quarterback. He sits in the pocket and takes hits and delivers the ball where he needs to deliver it.”
With Terrell and Davis leading the way, WMU joins top-ranked Alabama as the only undefeated teams remaining this season in the FBS. The Broncos also have the nation’s second-longest active win streak at 15 games and likely are headed to the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 in Arlington, Texas.
“To become part of something so great and see how far we’ve come from that 1-11 season is pretty remarkable,” Davis said. “We’re not done yet.”
Which means more blessings might be on the way.
Above: Photo courtesy Western Michigan Athletics