CLEMSON — Talk about passing the eye test.
Hulking Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis accessorized Saturday with contact lenses that seem to magnify the size of his pupils and ivory sclera. Davis saw rapper Hopsin wearing them, and Hopsin’s explanation was “so you’ll remember me.”
It’s unlikely anybody will forget Davis, at 6-foot-5 and nearly 340 pounds the largest player on the Clemson football team and a key component on an offensive line under scrutiny this spring. A senior from Chester, he began to fulfill the bountiful expectations last season, starting seven games and thrusting himself into competition for a fulltime gig at guard or tackle.
Theoretically every job is at stake as Clemson’s offense transitions to a new quarterback and skill players. Realistically, there are probably 2-2½ two openings on the line, with Isaiah Battle penciled in at left tackle, Ryan Norton at center and Davis – somewhere.
However it shakes out Clemson could begin 2014 with one of its most athletic offensive lines in recent memory. At least seven others are in the mix, including Shaq Anthony, David Beasley, Joe Gore, Jay Guillermo, Eric Mac Lane and Reid Webster.
Norton started all 13 games last season at center. Beasley started seven at left guard, and Anthony and Battle had three at tackle. Mac Lane, a converted tight end, was handed an opportunity to claim a starting job at guard this spring, but Clemson prefers its all its linemen to learn more than one position to amplify its depth with the loss of tackle Giff Timothy and guard Patrick DeStefano to career-ending injuries.
“We’re really trying to challenge those guys and see how they respond,” says coach Dabo Swinney, “Sometimes with the ones, sometimes with twos. See how they respond.”
For example, Mac Lane practiced at both tackle spots and left guard. Gore and Anthony spent time at both tackles, Guillermo and Webster was at center and guard and Davis was at right tackle and both guard spots. Swinney also hoped to push Maverick Morris, whom he said worked hard in the offseason.
Davis has a “better than average” shot to start heading into the first of two full scrimmages the next two Mondays in Death Valley.
Taking an aggressive, proactive role this spring, Swinney jumped into the fray last week to stir the dynamics.
“There are no guaranteed spots for that Georgia game,” Davis said. “They’re still mixing and matching.
“Coach Swinney would mix and match us and try us at different positions, so you get thrown into the fire.”
Davis battled to manage his weight after arriving at Clemson. At Chester High, he always was training for one of three sports, including soccer.
“For a year and a half, I was trying to figure it out,” he said. “It was hard. Once you figure it out, you can go with it.
“You have to know your role and when you’re time comes, it comes. You’ve got to contribute anyway you can because you can’t always be ‘the man.’ “
As much as he needs Davis to emerge as a force in an offense that intends to gravitate to a more balanced attack, Swinney can’t help but smile when discussing him.
There may not be a player on the Clemson team as unique. A major in modern languages, Davis won a roundtrip ticket to Japan with a speech last fall at the Japanese Cultural Challenge in Atlanta entitled “Games and I.” Shortly after the spring semester, he’ll visit Japan to immerse himself in its language and culture.
“How many Japanese majors do you know playing major college football,” Swinney said, “He swears he has a place to work out.
“I am hoping they feed him nothing but rice.”
Smart and cerebral, Davis can look menacing from a distance with a thick thatch of hair and full beard before you see the eyes. Swinney describes him as “one of the more interesting personalities on our team.”
“I’m proud of his development,” he said. “He’s come into his own, shown his oats a little bit, also feeling good about his décor.”
And Swinney would prefer Davis to lose the contacts by August, maybe before the trip to Japan, where he his size alone should make him a curiosity.
“He’s a scary looking guy anyway,” he said. “Hopefully he leaves the contact at home.”