Question: You’re in the NFL now, the latest step in a lifelong dream. But when did it begin? When did you first start playing football?
Answer: “I played a little recreation league ball when I was probably 10. I was a center and fullback. It was fun, but I was always overweight, so I didn’t get to play that much because they had a weight limit for the league. I think I only played a couple of games. It was tough for a kid and where I come from, they were serious about football. I’d be running in trash bags in practice at 10 years old trying to lose weight (sighs). I really didn’t like the sport that much. Weight-wise, I was too wide back then.”
Q: Were you always bigger than kids your size?
A: “No, not all. I was short and chubby for the longest time. When I turned 13, that’s when I hit a little growth spurt.”
A: “I don’t remember too much. Missing games was the over-riding memory. There was not much to it. It was one of those things my mom forced me to do. She was like, ‘You’re going to play football.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to play football.’ I would always try to quit, and the coach would always entice me to get me back out there. It’s ironic now, isn’t it?”
Q: To get to this level, it has to be about more than money, or fame – the things a lot of people associate with the NFL. What do you love about the game that has kept you playing?
A: “I still want to be the best at it. That’s one driving part, but I get to help so many people. I get to influence so many people that without this job, I wouldn’t have that opportunity. I’m still driving to be the best, but I keep in mind the people I have an opportunity to impact for the better.”
Q: Do you like the platform that this sport affords you?
A: “I do, I do, and I respect it. I’ve always respected it going back to college. It’s very important to use it, and you hear that word, ‘platform,’ but guys don’t really get it until a couple of years into their pro career. I was fortunate enough for it to really click in college. I saw the impact I had with people just by saying hello, or shaking their hand, or signing something for them. I knew right then I was a role model. I was visible just because of the sport I played. I took it upon myself that whatever I said, tweeted or did was something that I would want my nieces and nephews to see and to model themselves after. Those are really the ones I try to be the best role model for.”
Q: What was your best sport growing up? It wasn’t football for all NFL players . . .
A: “Basketball was my sport. I had moved to a neighborhood in Fayetteville, North Carolina where the only game played was basketball. I hadn’t played much and I was probably eight or nine years old. Most of the guys had been playing longer than that. In order to hang out with people, I had to pick up on it pretty quickly. I worked day and night to get better. It would be raining, and I would be outside playing basketball. I was working on different things. Allen Iverson was pretty big back then, so I worked on my cross-over dribble, pull-up jump shots and things like that. I got pretty good at it. I worked on my ball-handling skills initially. Then I worked on shooting. When I was about 13 years old in eighth grade, that’s when it became about dunking. That was when I had my first dunk, a one-hand tomahawk. I surprised myself, too. When I landed, I went crazy. It wasn’t over someone, it was just the first time.”
Q: When did you move to your position? Were you always a tight end?
A: “I always was a tight end. My freshman year I played on the JV, and I played a little bit of everything. The next year my coach, Danny Pearman, said, ‘You’re going to be my tight end.’ From then on, I was his tight end. He taught me everything about the position, except route-running. I came out of high school as a very good route-runner, but not a good blocker. That was totally backwards. Ironically, the same thing happened when I came out of college. It, too, was backwards.”
Q: What’s your best football memory?
A: “I remember after we won the ACC Championship, we got back to our facility and there were thousands of people waiting for us because it was Clemson’s first conference championship in 20 years. I remember the feeling of getting off the bus, recording it all and soaking it in. That was a lot of fun. That’s what it’s (athletics) all about. You can’t beat the feeling.”
Q: When did you first think this was real? When did you first think, ‘I have a chance to play in the NFL?’
A: “When I first started having the aspirations of playing the game professionally was definitely in high school. The head coach of the varsity, Wayne Inman, got me out there to play because he thought I was good. Since he thought I would be good, I went out and found out I was alright at it. I remember just working in the weight room and on the field and thinking to myself, ‘If I’m going to play this sport, I want to be the best in it.’ He told me that from the start, but how many people would believe someone walking up to them for the first time and saying, ‘You can play on Saturdays and Sundays, if you work hard enough.’ After my sophomore year when I got my first offer, that’s when I started believing him. I just wanted to be the best. I never really did it for the offers. I never did it to get to this level.”
Q: Do you have a pre-game ritual?
A: “No pre-game rituals. There’s nothing I have to do to get ready to play. I just always knew when the time came to play that I would be good to play. I feel as if rituals can get in the way of being able to have the switch of turning it on and off.”
Q: Do you feel the true hard work comes in practice and that games are easier? If so, when did that start?
A: “I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always felt I got paid for practice. I don’t get paid for the games. The games are when I get to cut loose and have fun. That’s the way I go about it. Wednesday through Saturday, it’s work time. On Sunday, Sunday is fun day.”
Q: Who’s the person most responsible for you being in the NFL?
A: “My mom, Olivia Davis. The way she raised me was special. She instilled resilience in me from birth. She told me never to be satisfied and know that everything comes with sacrifice, never to give up. Also, I’d say Coach Inman. He always encouraged me. He taught me the nuances of the game and the position. He made sure that I wasn’t going to get in my way. If there were going to be something, it was going to be someone who was faster or bigger. He instilled in me that no one was going to work harder than me.”
Q: What about after football? Do you have any post-career plans?
A: “I’m still working on that. I finish my degree in health science in August. I might want to do some commentating, be an analyst. Also, I want to coach. I would love 10 or 15 years down the line, if I’m blessed to have a career like that, to retire and be a high school basketball coach. I feel that way because my high school basketball coach had the biggest impact on me. I want to pay it back to other kids. I feel since I enjoyed basketball so much, and I still love football, but I’d love to coach high school-aged kids and try to influence them for the better.”
Q: Do you have a particular high school coach or teacher who means a great deal to you? If so, why?
A: “Yes, my freshman algebra teacher, Lin Matthews. We’re still in contact. She is another person who always encouraged me. She was always a fan of
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: “No favorite player growing up. In high school, though, I’d always watch Antonio Gates for his route-running and because of his basketball connection. I’d also watch Heath Miller. He was a favorite because he played the position the way it is supposed to be played. Also, Jason Witten.”
Q: It meant a lot to you to win the John Mackey Award for the best collegiate tight end, didn’t it?”
A: “Yes, a ton. I didn’t even know there was a tight end award going into college. Once I did, I set my sights on it and worked as hard as I could to earn it.”
Q: How much John Mackey footage have you seen and what about him stuck out the most to you?
A: “Quite a bit, actually. When I received the award, I watched a documentary on him. That’s another thing I admire about John Mackey. He was much more than just a football player. The things he was able to accomplish off the field, in my eyes, outshined what he did on the field. On the field, he was a monster. No one wanted to tackle him, and he had deceptive speed for a guy his size.”
Q: Favorite team?
A: “No favorite team. I didn’t watch much football growing up. I watched basketball. Because of the people in my neighborhood, we were fans of the Philadelphia 76ers. We were Sixers fans because we loved Allen Iverson. We loved him.”
A: “(Laughs) I, unlike Allen Iverson, think practice is very important. That’s what I get paid for. I go to practice to work my tail off and get better. I saw the interview and thought, ‘Noooo, don’t do that.’ ”
Q: What was your first car?
A: “The first car I bought was a 2007 Chevy Impala. It’s the same one I have today. It wasn’t new. I got it in 2009. It had like 50,000 miles on it, a great car. It still runs well. I call it, ‘Betsy.’ She’s paid off, that’s why I drive it. She’s paid off and still running. That’s my girl to this day.”
Q: What was your first job?
A: “The first job I ever got a paystub for was the Indianapolis Colts. There was no job prior to that. I was always in some type of sports – football or basketball. Some guys had jobs, tough and nasty ones, but I didn’t.”
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that has inspired you in football or life? If so, what is it and why does it mean something to you?
A: “One is, ‘We all have drunk from wells that we did not dig.’ It talks about how we’ve all benefited from the work of someone else. It’s kind of like the quote, ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of others.’ I think that one goes back to about the 12th century. I’m appreciative of those who have come before me and dug the wells I’ve been able to drink from.”
Q: You’re different this year than last year. What is it?
A: “My faith, that’s the biggest difference, and the just the growth I received since confessing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I have relinquished all worry and doubt in a day-to-day sense. It has freed me to do my job, and in everything I do try to worship Him.”
Q: You’re playing in a sport that exalts people, but how important is it to be humble?
A: “Very, very. One of my favorite scripture verses is I Corinthians 11:1. The Apostle Paul is telling the people of Corinth, ‘Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.’ This sport exalts me, but I just want the opportunity to work as hard as I can – a head down, feet turning mentality. When I get the chance to speak, I want to make sure I’m pointing to the One who I get my strength, courage and abilities from. That’s why I work so hard now – for that opportunity. It’s not one of those things I go blurting out all the time because if my work doesn’t match it, it means nothing. I want to make sure at the right time people know my faith is everything.”
Q: Do you feel a double sense then of being a role model and a Christian?
A: “It’s definitely a double opportunity. It’s who I am. I look forward to doing it each day.”