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MOUNT ZION — Just take a look at Mount Zion football coach Patrick Etherton's Twitter feed and you know his team's running game is going to be special this season. 

There you'll find a video of senior running back Sage Davis squatting 545 pounds during summer weigh training. 

Etherton said Davis is the strongest member of the Braves — has been for years — and he's the the focal point that the team's off-the-field work circles around.

"We actually had to cut back a little bit on the amount he was lifting last season because he was putting so much weight on the bar and we really didn't need to see that so we cut down on that," Etherton said. "He is everything you want in a person. He does everything right. He works hard and doesn't say a word and just gets the job done."

Davis has the numbers and work ethic to the be best running back in Macon County this season. He racked up 1,372 yards rushing (1,556 total yards) and seven touchdowns in 2018 during a season that got off to a rocky start with an ankle injury in preseason practice that forced him to miss Week 1. 

This year, Davis has focused his summer workouts on improving his already impressive play and keeping the team's preparation on track. 

"There are always holes that I miss and plays I could have improved on. We have had high team participation all summer so we have gotten a lot done already," he said. "It helps on the field because you will have an edge on somebody who hasn't put in as much work as you have and you are a little bit stronger. "

One thing that won't be on Davis' mind this season is his college selection. He has fielded offers from both Division III (Augustana, McKendree and Quincy) and Division II (University of Sioux Falls and Minnesota State-Mankato). Davis hasn't announced a final decision yet, but said Mankato sits at the top of his list. 

Along with a stress-free mind, Davis has the comfort of an experienced offensive line featuring five seniors — Garrett Marshall, Peyton Moreau, Anthony Nash, Chastain Summers and Aaron Valdez — clearing the way for him. 

"We are returning a really strong line and everyone is familiar with the position. They have all put in a lot of work and they are ready to go," Davis said. 

It all adds up to a season in which Davis could end up having some performances reminiscent of his favorite NFL player — New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley. 

"I really like watching (Saquon) because of what kind of powerhouse he is. It's hard to play up top that level though," he said. 

Balanced attack

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Along with Davis, the Braves return junior quarterback Ashton Summers and junior wide receiver Bryson Bartels. Etherton is pleased with his team's development and will look for balance in the offensive scheme. 

"We are much farther ahead than were we have been in the past. Just having a returning quarterback and returning skill guys and linemen that have played before and so we are light years ahead of where we have been as far as our ability to do different things in practice," he said. "(Sage) will be the focal point of the offense, but we also return three receivers that started last year and our backup tailback is unbelievable in Taylor May."

Davis can also see the improvement Summer has made from a season under center.

"I think (Ashton) has grown a lot and it was a boost in his confidence level that he really needed," Davis said. "He put in a lot of work this offseason. I think (our offense) is going to be balanced more this year with some more passing and our quarterback stepping up this year."

Schedule look

Before Mount Zion's Apollo Conference schedule begins in Week 3, the Braves have two difficult road opponents in Highland and Dunlap. 

Both teams qualified for the playoffs last season — Highland finished 11-1 — and Dunlap finished second overall in Class 5A in 2017, so the Braves will know quickly if they need to make adjustments.  

"We will know pretty early. Dunlap and Highland have been very good and so we will have an idea before we get to the Apollo and that is why we schedule it that way," Etherton said. 

Apollo Conference predictions are a challenge to make this season as undefeated conference champions Taylorville lost three key offensive weapons in quarterback Brandon Odam and receivers Justin Wright and Yemi Odugbesan.

"It will be interesting because everyone graduated quarterbacks except for just a couple of schools. Effingham is going to be very good. (Effingham head coach Brett Hefner) always does a great job and their kids are well prepared and they believe in what they do," Etherton said. "Mattoon will have some kids and Mahomet will be interesting with their new coach (Jon Adkins). Taylorville, I really don't know what they will be like. It will be interesting and we won't know until we get a couple of games in."


 PHOTOS: Mount Zion's Sage Davis

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Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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