CLEMSON — Kalon Davis is a football player. But he isn’t defined by that pursuit. Not by a longshot.
The Chester native is a Japanese major, a video game aficionado, an owner of a rescue spaniel mix puppy named Rikku. And, oh yeah – a Clemson junior lef))t guard.
“I never tell people I play football,” Davis said this week. “That’s the last thing I tell people. Most of them probably guess. I don’t want you to know me as a football player. I want you to know who I am.”
Lately, Davis has been making a name for himself on the football field. He made his second start in three weeks and played well against Wake Forest, and is slated to start again Saturday at Syracuse. Clemson’s depth chart lists Davis and fellow junior David Beasley as co-starters at left guard, and Davis has also worked at right tackle, where there is similar instability.
“He’s really playing well for us right now,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Last year, we couldn’t get him to do it. Couldn’t get him to cut loose. He’s like a lot of those guys going into their fourth year on campus. He’s seizing the moment right now.”
Davis’ interests are as varied as his positions on the line – senior right guard Tyler Shatley says Davis could play guard, tackle or even center.
He loves playing both indoor and outdoor soccer, which he says he helps with quickness and footwork.
His Japanese major is the most unique aspect. Swinney says he has never had a Japanese major on his roster. It involves Davis learning the language – he can segue into it seamlessly – and learning the culture.
Next summer, he expects to travel to Japan for a three-month study abroad program, a requirement for his major.
“It’s something I really enjoy,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Swinney fully supports Davis’ unique academic pursuit; he jokes with offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell that “if you talk to him in Japanese, he might know what to do.”
“I’d like to go to Japan with Kalon Davis,” Swinney said. “He’d be the biggest human being over there. He’s passionate about it. What a great career opportunity he’ll have – are you kidding me? To fluently speak Japanese in the world we live in? We’ll see where it takes him.”
Right now, Davis’ path appears to be headed towards a prominent role on Clemson’s offensive line.
Last week marked his career high in snaps, a culmination of his offseason work towards improvement.
Davis did plenty of solo work focusing on pass-blocking and hand placement over the summer. Recently, he has worked with large swinging bags: a member of Clemson’s strength and conditioning staff pushes a large bag at a stationary lineman, who must punch it away.
“We have (strength) coach (Dustin) Fry, and he shows no remorse,” Davis said. “You’ve got to be on your game.”
Practice, Davis says, has made perfect.
“It’s paying attention to what the coaches say,” he said. “Coach Caldwell will tell you, if you do what he says, you’ll grade out at least 75 percent. Rest of it’s just effort. I think it’s being able to take coaching and improve day by day is helping me out.”
His teammates agree.
“He’s been practicing hard, making plays, not making mistakes,” said senior All-ACC left tackle Brandon Thomas. “He’s been going through practice without mistakes. That’s been a good thing for trust with the coaches.”
Shatley trusts Davis, too.
“He’s a really smart player and knows what role he needs to play,” Shatley said. “Wherever he goes in, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. That’s a big thing, too. When you’re moving positions, you can expect some mistakes, but he doesn’t make a lot of those. He plays really well.”
At 335 pounds, conditioning can be an issue for Davis – he got tired last week and admitted “you’re going to burn out a little faster” when running to celebrate on long plays like Sammy Watkins’ 64-yard score and D.J. Howard’s 75-yard touchdown.
He’d love to start, but just fitting in and contributing is equally important.
“It felt good to enjoy a little continuity with the offensive line,” Davis said. “I practiced with them all week. Between (Ryan) Norton and BT, the guys on each side of me, it was easy to just be where I needed to be, know what I’m doing, what they’re doing, combos, all that stuff. It felt right.”
He says that – and most everything else in a 12-minute interview – with a relaxed smile.
Davis might not be your typical hard-nosed offensive lineman, but he’s having success.
Being fun and open-minded is working just fine for him.
“You want to have that mean streak, but you’ve also got to remember what got you where you are. Sometimes it’s better to be loose and have fun than have a mindset of being, ‘Oh, I’m the nastiest guy out there.’ That ends up with you being too aggressive, missing blocks, taking bad steps.
“I’m thinking about doing my job, getting it done, having fun while I’m doing it. Even before the game, they’re talking about a mean streak, but the day of the game they talk about having fun. Back in the day I was too worried about being that mean guy. Now I’m having fun with it.”