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April 10, 2011Every once in awhile, when he's not pumping iron, throwing shot-put or studying to keep up that 4.0 GPA, VJ Davey drifts into a daydream. The rising senior from Thomas Johnson High envisions himself as a starting defensive tackle in the NFL. It's Sunday afternoon - gameday - and lined up directly across from him is his brother, offensive lineman Nick Claytor, who is currently a 6-foot-7, 275-pound junior at Georgia Tech. Series after series, down after down, the two siblings knock heads, the kind of brotherly love only linemen could appreciate.
A quick psychoanalysis would suggest Davey feels inferior to his brother. It's almost like he must prove he belongs in the same conversation with a guy who was the No. 1 offensive tackle in Georgia coming out of Gainesville High and is now projected to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft (Claytor declared a year early).
But that couldn't be further from the truth.
The real reason Davey has that daydream? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that the three hours the two would clash on the gridiron would be more time then they've spent together the last two years.
"I don't get to see him much," said the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Davey. "He lives down in Atlanta and it just hasn't worked out where I can get down there or he can come up here."
Davey can count the number of times he's seen Claytor on one hand. The last time the two hung out was two years ago, when Davey made the trip down to Georgia Tech. That was the first time the two had been in face-to-face contact in almost four years.
"It's all good though," Davey said. "He still texts me from time to time. I guess the last time he texted me was during the Independence Bowl in New Orleans last year. He was playing in the game and almost coincidentally I was in New Orleans for Christmas vacation. But my phone was turned off and I didn't get his message. I could have been at the game with him!"
That pretty much sums up the relationship between Davey and his NFL-bound brother: Best served at long distances. But even though the two don't have an intimate relationship, Davey still considers Claytor a role model.
Which is at least partly why Davey is fighting for the same college opportunity and the same NFL dream heading into his final year at Thomas Johnson.
"His older brother set the example and he has to live up to that," said TJ coach Ben Wright. "He'll work his tail off for it. You put a goal in front of him, and he's going to reach it."
That wasn't always the case. Like many freshmen, Davey didn't have the work ethic and desire in his first year of high school football. Although he had the size, his body was nowhere near varsity ready. So he spent his first season on jayvee, where he was groomed at both offensive and defensive tackle.
Davey did well enough to earn a late-season varsity call-up, but he was sent right back to the junior varsity for his sophomore year. That had more to do with his age (Davey was only 13 years old in the ninth grade, a year younger then most of his classmates) then his ability. But the staff still deemed him unready for the big time.
"With most big kids it takes a while for your body to catch up to your coordination," Wright said. "VJ is a big kid, and he came along a little slower. But last summer he got a little of that Eye of the Tiger in him."
That he did. Not only did Davey sprout up to 6-4, but he started to develop his "man muscles," necessary for the daily beatings he'd take down in the varsity trenches. Deadlifts, squats and power cleans became a part of his daily strength-building routine. Sprints, triceps extensions and plyometrics helped his speed and flexibility.
Naturally, Davey took the cue from Claytor, who told him he'd need to work a little harder if he wanted to make it in the college ranks.
"He sends me drills that he does at Georgia Tech and told me things that would help me get even better," Davey said. "Then, I got to talk to [former Yellow Jacket and current Tennessee Titan] Derrick Morgan, who is his friend. He told me about hand movements and stuff like that. It helped a lot."
Thanks to his rebuilt body, Davey became a two-way starter from Day One his junior year. Wright and the staff had him concentrate on offense since the Patriots didn't have much depth up front. But Davey, who prefers defense, also strutted his stuff as a run-stuffing tackle.
There were several games, such as the Week 7 showdown with rival Tuscarora, where he practically abused his counterpart with a devastating bull-rush, pinning his man like a wrestler on run plays.
What made Davey stand out, however, was his on-field intelligence.
"That 4.0 GPA he has isn't just book smarts," Wright said. "He could read defenses and pick up things on film. Then when he didn't know something he'd ask good questions. Not many young kids do that."
Success didn't come immediately, however. Davey started slowly, struggling against a particular speed rusher from Martinsburg in Week 2. And while he held his own the rest of the season, his mechanics and stamina weren't up to par with elite trenchmen. Davey wasn't consistently beating his man off the ball, and sometimes he'd get caught flat-footed by quicker running backs.
"He was pretty good - big enough to fill holes and all that," said Linganore running back Joe Riddle, whose team lost to TJ in the regular season finale. "But he didn't have the great footwork like some other guys I went up against did. But if he works at it he could be real good."
Davey and the TJ coaches apparently agreed with Riddle. This offseason he's been working with the Patriots' strength-and-conditioning coach on his acceleration and quickness off the line.
So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Wright, who isn't easily impressed, called him one of the hardest workers on the team. Moreover, all the baby fat he carried his first couple years disappeared. He's become a 270-pound boulder, complete with six-pack abs and rippling forearm muscles.
"Anyone who lines up in front of me, I want to be able to drive them back and pancake them every time," Davey said. "You put the quarterback in front of me and I'm going to get him. I want to be a monster."
He'll need to be if he wants to play at a school like his brother. Wright, for his part, believes Davey could become another Steve Chase, a former Patriots lineman who is now at Wake Forest.
It would help, however, if he grew a few more inches. A 6-3 lineman is right in that "tweener" range for most major colleges.
"Well, VJ isn't growing as fast as Nick did in high school," said Davey's father, Von, who stands 6-8. "But VJ is only 16 and he has a long way to go. I expect he'll be 6-6 before it's all said and done."
If Von, who played basketball at Bowling Green, is correct, Davey will be raking in his share of Division-I offers before it's all said and done. In fact, Von went so far as to predict VJ will be even better then Nick one day.
If that happens, VJ's daydream might just become reality.
"Nick is going to work hard to make it in the NFL, and I know I'm going to work my butt off to get there, too," Davey said. "It's definitely possible."