High School Football

Belleville West running back Kriston Davis to play at UTEP

Belleville West running back star Kriston Davis will take his game to the University of Texas at El Paso.
Belleville West running back star Kriston Davis will take his game to the University of Texas at El Paso. Jimmy J. Simmons

Kriston Davis' search for a new football home finally ended Saturday.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Davis, the career rushing leader at Belleville West with 2,940 yards along with 34 touchdowns, signed with the University of Texas at El Paso. The Miners were 0-12 overall and 0-8 in Conference USA last season.

"I enjoyed (the recruiting process), but it was long and stressful at the same time," Davis said. "(UTEP) has a great family atmosphere. They really embraced me and it was really fun. I felt right at home."

Davis was recruited by Mike Simmonds, a 1982 graduate of Belleville West who spent three seasons as an offensive lineman with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.

Simmonds, a former star at Indiana State, is entering his first season at UTEP, which on Dec. 6 hired Dana Dimel, the former offensive coordinator at Kansas State, as its new coach. Dimel replaced former coach Sean Kugler after Kugler resigned five games into last season.

"He loved Kris," West coach Cameron Pettus said of Simmonds, who also has coached at South Florida, Ball State, North Texas, Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa. "He was like, 'Yeah, we would love to get him down here.' He values him and knows how he good he is.

"I'm excited for (Davis). He's very talented. He's chasing that dream and we're excited for him."

Davis said Simmonds also was recruiting him to play at Northern Iowa. The relationship was forged and carried over when Simmonds accepted his new position with the Miners.

"Coach Simmonds was one of the main (reasons)," Davis said of signing with UTEP. "He was a great recruiter and a former Maroon from back in the day. This is a new coaching staff and Coach Dimel is going to turn this program around. I can't wait to take on the role and the challenge. ... I love running the pigskin. It's going to be a faster pace, for sure. I saw that at the spring game. It's a lot more intense. Those are grown men out there."

Davis had 1,303 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, helping the Maroons finish 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the Southwestern Conference. West lost to Buffalo Grove 17-7 in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.

Davis said Jan. 24 that he had offers from Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Northwest Missouri. He expected to announce his decision Feb. 7, but instead kept his options open, waiting for an offer with which he was comfortable.

The all-state performer took a visit to Illinois State and kept Eastern Kentucky, South Dakota and South Dakota State on his radar.

"He just felt like he needed more time to make a decision, and that's OK," Pettus said.

Davis rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of the Maroons' 10 games. As a junior, he gained 1,135 yards, scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for at least 100 yards in six of West's 10 games.

As a defensive back last season, Davis had 64 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. He was open in January to the possibility of playing safety or cornerback in college, but made it clear he preferred running back.

Davis is the son of Tremont Davis Sr. and La'Shawnda Johnson. His older brother, Tremont Davis Jr., was a linebacker at West who graduated in 2013.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665; @DavidMWilhelm