Kalon Davis’ NFL career is on hold for at least six weeks after the former Chester Cyclone failed his physical with the Denver Broncos on Thursday.
The Broncos signed Davis almost immediately after the NFL draft ended May 2, but the contract was predicated on the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Clemson offensive lineman passing his league-mandated physical. Davis had back surgery March 15 to fix a herniated disc, and was only cleared by a doctor in late April.
“I did some of the normal stuff I always have done for physicals on my back: bend over and touch my toes, I had to walk on my heels, walk on my toes, stuff like that was fine. ,” said Davis. “But he wanted me to bend back, which hurt a little bit, but then he asked me to bend back a little bit more and that hurt really bad.”
Failing the physical was a possibility considering Davis’ recent clearance. But Davis and his agent Jay Courie thought that the Broncos were okay with the health of Davis’ back and that he would still be able to participate in the camp in some fashion.
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“I can’t say I was shocked, but I was certainly disappointed,” said Courie about the failed physical. “I think Kalon was disappointed as well because he wanted to participate at whatever level he could.”
Davis’ doctor said he could start running or jogging, but he didn’t really want him to do anything with contact. He basically released him to do as much as he thought he could. But the Broncos apparently wanted an offensive lineman immediately ready to get on the field in every capacity.
“They didn’t clear him to practice and sent him home,” said Courie.
It was eight or nine years ago when Chester assistant football coach Eric Park burst into coach Victor Floyd’s office ready to spill intriguing news.
He’d just seen a behemoth playing junior varsity soccer. He wore size-16 cleats – Park still wonders to this day where you would even buy those – and the best news: he was just a freshman.
“I know, I know,” said Floyd, seated at his desk. “His name is Kalon Davis and I already talked to him.”
Unlike many NFL players, or hopefuls, Davis didn’t grow up staring at his ceiling at night seeing visions of football stardom, and he didn’t start playing the game until Floyd recruited him as a ninth grader.
But Davis was a natural. On a recruiting visit to Tennessee as a freshman with Chester coaches and Cyclones standout C.C. Whitlock, Vols coach Phillip Fulmer mistakenly thought Davis – already a hulk by that time – was a junior or senior. Davis maintains that Fulmer was about to offer him a scholarship when Park cleared up the situation, telling Tennessee’s coach the big kid was only in ninth grade.
Over the next few years, Davis developed a passion for the game. Park remembers the 3A Upper State championship game during Davis’ junior year as the point in which he shifted from just looking like a college football player to acting like one on the field.
“They started to chop the legs out from under him,” said Park, “and something just kind of snapped in Kalon. We knew he was good at (football), he liked it and enjoyed it, but that was the first time I really ever saw him play with that edge that you need to succeed on the offensive line.”
Maurice Flowers coached Davis during his junior and senior years at Chester. He remembers being struck by Davis’ size, athleticism and most of all, intelligence.
“He destroys all stereotypes, as far as a dumb jock or a dumb football player,” said Flowers. “Soon as he opens his mouth you know that someone with intelligence is speaking to you.”
And Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell echoed those comments when he said in January that Davis was “one of the smartest young men I’ve coached, if not the smartest.”
When Flowers took over the Chester job in 2008, the outgoing Floyd made sure to mention Davis.
“He was bang-on a gentle giant,” said Flowers. “His intelligence level is off the charts. Kalon is somebody that made me a better coach because one thing I knew is that when I came to Kalon with something on film he was going to have the question, ‘why?’ Or he might have already looked at it and this is what he’s seen or this is what he thinks.”
Kung fu, and Madden
Davis spent five years at Clemson, playing all across the offensive line. He majored in Japanese, speaks the language, and spent the summer of 2014 in that country, soaking up culture.
One source of Davis’ interest in Japanese culture stems from his mother, Loresia. Davis’ father, Charles, has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair so the family didn’t go to the movie theater much. Instead, they had shelves of DVDs, including Loresia’s collection of over 200 kung fu movies.
“They grew up watching them with me,” she said. “We always had different interests and we always encouraged them to try different things.”
After his Japanese immersion, the 6-foot-5, 325-pound man-mountain returned to Death Valley last fall and emerged as a crucial leader on a young Tigers offensive line. He played 903 snaps, the fourth-most by an offensive tackle in Clemson football history, and was named honorable mention All-ACC. According to Pro Football Focus, Davis didn’t allow a single sack in 485 pass-blocking snaps.
Davis believes his ability to memorize and master playbooks stems from his intense interest in the Madden NFL video game. He was ranked in the state when he was younger, playing in tournaments and winning prizes. Whenever Loresia bought her kids a new video game, she always bought the accompanying manual, which Kalon would devour in a matter of days.
“All my knowledge really stems back from that,” said Davis. “If you’re competitive in Madden, you’ll learn these schemes.”
Besides intelligence, Davis has versatility in his corner as well. Flowers called him a “Swiss Army Knife.”
Denver coach Gary Kubiak might as well have been talking about Davis when he told the Broncos’ web site, “To play inside in this league, you have to be able to play a lot of spots. You suit seven guys on game, some suit six, if you don’t have players that can move around, it makes it very difficult. I think that’s very important.”
At Chester, and later at Clemson, Davis showed off the multiple tools on his Swiss Army knife. Floyd used him as a guard, but Flowers moved him to left tackle to protect his up-and-coming sophomore quarterback Tony McNeal, who later joined Davis at Clemson.
“I wanted (McNeal’s) backside to be protected because we were going to throw the football,” said Flowers. “He made that transition so easily because he was so smart, first off, to know that there was a difference of playing tackle and guard, and that also he was athletic enough to make that happen. You saw when he was in college he played every position but center.”
Back to work
Courie isn’t sure if Davis will ever get a chance to prove that versatility to the Broncos after the Chester native’s harsh introduction to professional sports. Davis will work closely with Clemson’s sports medicine team to get his back strengthened and completely healed. Then he’ll undergo a training stint in Atlanta with Chip Smith, who oversaw Davis’ pre-draft work and will help him knock off any post-rehab rust.
“It’s nothing I can control so I just have to do what I can now,” said Davis.
Courie said most NFL teams will be aware of what’s transpired with Davis in the last week, but that he would be following up with any and all teams regardless. Davis should be ready to go by July. That would leave a few weeks before training camps, though, so Davis’ wait to be signed, to get an NFL chance, shouldn’t be too long.
“He’s an extremely even-keeled guy, he doesn’t have a lot of highs and lows, and he’s a very mature and smart football player and person,” said Courie. “I think his approach at this point is go back, work hard and get himself completely healthy and then we’ll see what opportunities come next.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T