CLEMSON — About 3 a.m. Friday morning, James Davis woke up with a start.
Clemson’s junior tailback was in Pensacola, Fla., where he was training after declaring for the NFL draft Jan. 9.
The more he thought about it, though, the more he knew that he wanted more time at Clemson.
Later Friday afternoon, he made it official. Davis sent letters to the NFL and Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips asking that his name be removed from the NFL draft, and Clemson has approved him to return to classes Tuesday following the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
Davis confirmed Friday that he didn’t sign with an agent or accept anything from an agent. That allowed him to return under an NFL clause which allows underclassmen to pull out of the draft by midnight Friday.
“I got up and had a change of heart,” he said Friday while driving from Florida to Atlanta. ”(Returning) was always on my mind and my mom had talked to me about it. I woke up at 3 a.m. and thought, ‘I think I want to go back to school.’
“If you look at it, we have great players on our team and I think my stock can’t do anything but go up. We can compete for the ACC championship and a national title, and that can help, too.”
Davis’ return is a huge boost for Clemson’s pursuit of an ACC championship. Several news outlets have already listed the Tigers as a preseason top-15 pick even without Davis.
He has been Clemson’s top rusher each of the past three seasons, the first Tiger to do so since Raymond Priester did so from 1995-97. He finished this season with 1,064 yards and 12 total touchdowns.
He is also second on Clemson’s all-time rushing and touchdown lists, with 3,130 yards and 38 touchdowns. Priester holds the all-time rushing lead with 3,966 yards, while Travis Zachery had 50 touchdowns from 1998-01.
It also keeps the Tigers’ vaunted “Thunder and Lightning” backfield combo alive. Rising junior C.J. Spiller is a more explosive back than Davis, and the Tigers have an oral commitment from tailback Andre Ellington — considered the state’s top tailback prospect — and are considered a leader for the services of Jacksonville, Fla., tailback Jamie Harper, considered one of the nation’s top tailbacks. But Davis provides a proven every-down, between-the-tackles runner Clemson didn’t have on its current roster.
“I am thrilled,” Spiller said. “We will have one more year of ‘Thunder and Lightning.’ I supported James in his original decision, but we continued to talk. I think he just missed Clemson.”
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said he had talked with Davis over the last week about his decision.
“In the final analysis he realizes this is the best decision for him and his family,” Bowden said in a statement. “This decision will give him a much better opportunity to graduate, which I know is important to James and his family.
“He will certainly be one of the leaders of our team next year, just as he has been the last three years. His draft status will be much higher after another year at Clemson. He should be one of the top running backs in the nation next year.”
Davis was projected as a third-round pick by the NFL draft advisory committee, but faced a crowded field of backs to improve or maintain his stock.
It includes Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, Rutgers’ Ray Rice, Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, Michigan’s Mike Hart, Oklahoma’s Allen Patrick, Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice, Texas’ Jamaal Charles and West Virginia’s Steve Slaton.
He said he hadn’t talked with NFL general managers or scouts about his stock since declaring, though, and felt he could compete.
“It didn’t concern me,” he said. “I think I’m just as good as those guys. I just weighed my best options and the decision I thought was best would be to come back. Those guys — you’ve got to look where you’re rated at. It all plays a part.”
Now, he’s free to get a college degree and compete for Clemson’s first ACC title since 1991.
“Everybody I’ve told is excited,” he said. “C. J. will love for me to come back and play with him, and I’m excited about coming back and playing with my teammates. I think it’s a good feeling. I won’t miss all the stuff I knew I’d miss out on.”