AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Corey Davis was still trying to get academically eligible when he was offered a scholarship for coach P.J. Fleck’s first recruiting class at Western Michigan.
Once on campus in Kalamazoo for Fleck’s first season, Davis quickly emerged as a star receiver even as the Broncos initially struggled.
When the chance came a year ago to leave school early for the NFL after the program’s first bowl victory, Davis stayed for his senior season.
“There were a lot of personal goals that I wanted to achieve myself, but it was more so for the team,” Davis said. “I knew we had a great team, and we had a lot of goals that we had set, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
The Broncos went from 1-11 in his freshman season to 13-0 this year, when he had his third consecutive 1,400-yard season while becoming the FBS career leader in receiving yards and an All-American . Now the Mid-American Conference champions play No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.
“He values the experience, he values his teammates, he values something bigger than just himself and the money,” Fleck said Saturday, recalling conversations with Davis about his future at the end of last season. “He said, ‘I would really regret if it’s as good as I think it’s going to be and I’m watching it on TV instead of experiencing it.’ … That says a lot about his character.”
After last year’s Bahamas Bowl victory, and a season with 90 catches for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns, Davis didn’t know right away if he was going back to school. He potentially could have been the only MAC receiver other than Randy Moss drafted in the first round — and now almost certainly will be in April.
“Just looking back and seeing how far I’ve come and how much I’ve been through, it’s very humbling. It just kind of takes my breath away a little bit,” Davis said. “It’s just hard to wrap my head around everything that has come my way, and it’s such a blessing.”
In deciding to stay, the 6-foot-3 Davis felt he “had a lot of maturing to do” before going to the NFL. He wanted to get even better on the field and more aggressive going after 50-50 balls in matchups with defenders.
Evident by all the highlight catches this season — 91 receptions for 1,427 yards and 18 TDs — he did just that.
“I don’t know how much more he’s got left to prove because in my opinion, he’s proved everything,” quarterback Zach Terrell said. “I see it on a daily basis, he’s the real deal. Anybody that doubts that, just look at the highlights.”
With their combined 50 TDs the past four seasons, Terrell and Davis are one off the FBS record held by Rice’s Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard (2005-08). Davis has only one TD reception with WMU not thrown by Terrell.
Davis has 326 catches for his FBS-record 5,212 yards. He is the only FBS receiver with at least 300 catches, 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns.
But it’s more than the big-number stats that show how much Davis has progressed.
Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca took part in a media session at the Cotton Bowl this week. He sat directly across from the receiver in a large room and was asked about Davis’ growth.
“It’s hard to put into words, because it’s kind of what coaching’s all about, seeing a young man like that succeed and grow every day,” Ciarrocca said. “He’s just a mature young man ready to go and be really successful with the rest of his life. … We all love to win. But the real scoreboard is your men like that, that touch your lives like that.”
Sophomore running back Jamauri Bogan calls it a privilege to be teammates with Davis, describing him as a magnificent person and player.
“I’m just glad to be his teammate,” Bogan said. “I always tell him that when I have kids, I’m going to tell them the stories about playing with Corey Davis and how lucky I was.”
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