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Butch Davis Talks About Hakeem Nicks

The Daily News did an interview with Butch Davis, Hakeem Nicks’s college coach:

Daily News: Tell me a little about Hakeem Nicks.

Butch Davis: I think the kid is a terrific football player. One of the things I’ve always admired and respected about the Giant organization, going all the way back to the George Young days, is they really kind of pride themselves on drafting guys that are football players. A lot of organizations get encumbered with looking at individual workouts and Pro Days and combines and all that kind of stuff. I mean, every game this kid has played in his three year career here, he’s been a star. And the bigger the games, the better that he has played. It was a struggling program when I got here, but he led the team in receptions as a true freshman. He played really well and scored some touchdowns at Notre Dame. Although all the opponents knew that he was kind of the have-to-go-to guy, he still put up big numbers. He’s really performed extremely well. He’s a mature kid. He’s got excellent work ethic. He loves to play, loves to complete. And he’s got just terrific hands. He’s got as good a set of hands hands catching the ball as anybody I’ve ever been around.

DN: That’s saying something, given the quality of receivers you’ve been around in your career.

BD: He’s so different. We were were blessed when I was at Miami. We had some great guys in Andre Johnson, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne. And they’re all a little bit different. You don’t want to put the burden on a kid coming in his rookie year, but a lot of his physical attributes are very similar to Michael Irvin. He’s big, he’s physical, he catches the ball over the middle, he’s got the ability to play physical when people are draped all over him as they’re going to be in the National Football League. The corners are so good they’re going to stick to you like glue, so you’ve got to be able to separate yourself, not only with speed but you’ve got to be able to be physical enough. I just think he’s a very, very talented good player.

DN: He’s got such a big opportunity with the Giants, where they’re looking for two starters. How ready is he to contribute right away?

BD: You know, I think all rookies struggle in some respects. I think the thing that will help almost any rookie is the team. Fortunately for him the Giants are a terrific team. They’ve got a great defense, they can run the football. And anytime you can do the things they can do, that will help him. Now, I think one of the things that hopefully will help him from a mental standpoint is he’s been in a pro-style offense now for the last two years. Everything that we’ve done here are pretty similar to the things we did when I was with the Cowboys and the Browns and Miami. So I think the volume of things he’s going to have to learn won’t intimidate him. Certainly learning to play at the pace and the speed and the length of the season that it is, all rookies are going to go through that. But absolutely, I think at the end of his rookie year I think he’ll have certainly earned the respect of being worthy of a being a first-round draft choice.

DN: In the last few months, Nicks took a lot of knocks from scouts for all the weight he put on during the combine and the Pro Day. Was it frustrating for you to watch that happen, knowing how highly you thought of him as a player?

BD: No, not really. I thought he dealt with it. He did exactly what everybody advised him to do. When he tweaked his hamstring at the combine, people kind of just told him ‘Hey look, Hakeem. Chill out. Right now you need to get well.’ So he put on some weight, and it was no big deal. After that he was fine. In the three years he’s been here, during the season his weight’s probably never fluctuated more than 3-5 pounds one way or another from training camp to the end of the season. So that didn’t frustrate us at all.

DN: Is his personality suited to handle New York and the spotlight he might find himself in?

BD: I think that’s a big stage for any kid coming in there. There’s almost no preparation for anybody to be able to handle the enormous microscope that you’re under when you play in New York. But he’s a confident kid and he’s very quiet and unassuming. I mean, he really, truly is one of those kids that lets his actions and how he plays speak a lot of volumes. He’s not a kid that runs off at the mouth. He just goes out and competes and plays hard. The thing that I liked about him is the bigger the game, it seemed like the better that he plays. The game he had in the bowl game, he was so geeked about wanting to play well. It was Carolina’s first time being in a bowl game in five years and he knew it was a national audience. And how could you have played any better than he did in that game? I mean, just miraculous circus catches and touchdows. And he’s willing to block and he knows that if he’s not the No. 1 or No. 2 read in a play he’s going to give everything he’s got. So I think he’ll go there and I think he’ll fit in well. The veteran kids will respect him because he’ll work hard. That’s what they want.

DN: That bowl game was an eye-opener, since there wasn’t a lot of hype about him to that point.

BD: Well, the program had struggled a couple of years ago when he first came in. Last year he kind of bust on the scene a little bit. He’s had some phenomenal games. I’m always leery sometimes when kids leave early. We had 26 or 27 first-round draft choices when I was at Miami over a period of time, and the few that went out early, the one thing they all had in common was that they had reached the point where they had dominated the games when they were in there. And I think that’s kind of the acid test. So when Hakeem and I talked about it I said ‘How much more is there that you can improve if you stay one more year? Are you going to go from the 26th, 27th, 28th pick in the draft to the top 10?’ He’s pretty much who he is. He’ll get craftier and he’ll get smarter and he’ll learn a lot more and everything, but I think he was as ready to go as just about anybody that I had coached.

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