Courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics

By Robert Wilson

It didn’t take long for Madison-Ridgeland Academy alumnus Davis Dalton – the 2021 Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Year – to make his first catch at Southern Miss.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dalton caught a 27-yard pass in the fourth quarter in Southern Miss’ 64-10 victory over Northwestern (La.) State Saturday night in Hattiesburg, in the Golden Eagles’ third game of the season.

Dalton got his first action at Southern Miss Saturday when he played in about a dozen plays during the Golden Eagles’ first win of the season.

Courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics

His first catch came from a pass by Jackson Prep alumnus and Southern Miss backup quarterback Jake Lange with 4 minutes to play in the game. Dalton’s catch came on fourth down and four and gave Southern Miss first down and goal at the Northwestern 8. The Golden Eagles scored two plays later to push the lead to 64-10.

“My first catch was definitely a little nerve racking,” Davis said. “I was shaking coming out of the huddle before my catch because I knew the ball was going to me. Thankfully, I caught it. I actually thought I scored but they went back and called it out of bounds around the 8-yard line.

“I really like everything down here. I love what the coaching staff is doing down here and think we’re definitely going in the right direction. College football took some getting used to for sure. The hardest part was going against the defensive backs we have here. Many are very experienced, and it took me a while to win routes against them. They have definitely made me a better player. I love playing football at USM.”

Davis is third on the depth chart as the X wide receiver, usually the boundary receiver, behind senior Jason Brownlee and sophomore and Houston transfer Jalen May. Davis and redshirt freshman Zay Franks are rotating as the third string, X wide receiver for second-year Southern Miss head coach Will Hall.

“Davis is coming in from a tradition rich program at MRA. Coach Herbert Davis and those guys have done a great job of molding Davis into a lot of what he is today,” Southern Miss wide receivers coach Desmond Lindsey said. “He is a good ball skill guy who is coachable. Davis has been able to come and handle the transition a little quicker than some freshman would have. He is learning how to be a good college student athlete, on the field and also everyday living. Davis takes the learning curve from some of the older guys and buys into it. He tries to soak it up and be a sponge.”

Lindsey believes Dalton has a bright future and wants to recruit more players like him to Southern Miss.

“Davis is a talented kid and when his opportunity arrives, he is going to really blow up,” Lindsey said. “We are very proud and thrilled to have Davis here. Davis is a quiet, mild-mannered kid. He does have confidence. He is behind a guy right now who is playing really well (senior Jason Brownlee). Davis has got some other guys in front of him, so you don’t want to burn a redshirt over two or three snaps a game. That would be doing that kid an injustice. We are looking at the future. We can still get him a couple of more games this year. Hopefully we won’t have any injuries. If we do, Davis is going to be able to step in and learn how to handle that and not use his redshirt. Right now, he comes to practice, comes to work every day with a smile on his face. Davis is a team guy. He wants to do whatever he can to help the team. We are just proud to have a young guy like that in our program. That is going to breed success. Davis has been an unselfish guy the entire time he has been here. You don’t hear anything before practice or after practice about not getting this many targets, catch this many balls. Davis is just happy to be here. That’s guys you can win with. That’s the kind of guys we want to recruit.”

Dalton caught 89 passes for 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns and led MRA to its third consecutive MAIS Class 6A state championship last season as a senior. His receiving yards were second highest in Mississippi and 18th highest in the country, according to MaxPreps. Dalton caught a Mississippi record 388 receiving yards – 17th best in history among high schools in the country according to MaxPreps – in MRA’s 50-20 victory over Jackson Prep last season.

Dalton started making headlines in his first game as a junior for MRA. In his first career start, Dalton caught six passes for 146 yards and three TDs, the last one was a 10-yard TD catch on fourth down with 7 seconds to play in a 27-26 victory over Trinity Christian (Texas), one of the top teams in the country, to open the 2020 season at MRA. NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, then the offensive coordinator for Trinity Christian and now Jackson State’s head coach, called Dalton’s performance “spectacular.” Dalton was named the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Week after that game.

Dalton continued to excel and caught 38 passes for 742 yards and 14 TDs and helped MRA to a 12-0 record and a second straight MAIS Class 6A state title. He was named to the second team of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Team. Also, MRA’s kickoff specialist and punter, Dalton had 12 touchbacks in nine games and averaged 38.3 yards per punt. 

Dalton, a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Football Team, performed even better as a senior. He had seven games where he had at least 100 receiving yards. Six of the other seven games Dalton didn’t play the whole game because MRA was way ahead. In only one game that he played the whole game did he not reach 100 – against Oakland, Tenn., which won its second straight Tennessee state title with a 15-0 record and was ranked No. 24 in the nation by MaxPreps. He averaged 8.5 catches and 127 yards against two-time MAIS Class 3A state champion and nationally ranked Greenville Christian and Arkansas state champion Pulaski Academy. He averaged 8.5 catches and 136 yards in two playoff victories over Jackson Academy and Hartfield.

Photo by Robert Smith

Dalton’s performance against rival Jackson Prep on Oct. 1 was historic. He caught 14 passes for 388 yards and three TDs in a 50-20 victory. Davis caught TD passes for 67, 64 and 41 yards. He had 260 yards on eight catches by halftime.

Davis might even be a better punter than receiver. The son of a kicker – his dad Todd kicked at Clinton High and Arkansas State – Dalton averaged an amazing 48.3 yards on 15 punts. He had a long of 65 yards and six punts downed inside the 20. His punting average would have ranked No. 5 in the country, according to MaxPreps, if he had one more punt. The minimum requirement was 16 punts for the season.

Todd worked with Davis growing up and took him to various punting camps and he thought punting was going to be his position to getting a college scholarship before Davis became an outstanding receiver.

Said MRA coach Herbert Davis: “He also got faster and stronger this summer. He is about the best I’ve ever coached at catching the ball and going, attacking, and finding the ball even if it’s not a perfect throw.”

Dalton, a forward, helped MRA to a 33-3 record and an Overall Tournament championship in basketball as a junior. Davis, who worked his way into the starting lineup once he got into basketball shape from football, scored 12 points in MRA’s overtime victory over Greenville Christian for the Overall title. Dalton made a rebound basket at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

Dalton averaged six points and started every game after football season and helped MRA to a 33-7 record and a MAIS Class 6A runner-up finish and Overall Tournament semifinal finish last season as a senior.