The first time Dabo Swinney met Tyler Davis, he looked at him and said, “Baby Dex! Yeah!”
At the time, Davis laughed it off and thought it was pretty funny being compared to former Clemson great Dexter Lawrence. However, the nickname stuck.
“He says I have a lot of his mannerisms and we do look alike. I have a little bit of his hair,” Davis said with a smile.
Most everyone inside the football program calls Davis “Baby Dex” now, though he wasn’t really a fan of it.
“I did not really like it at first. I don’t think me and Dex look nothing alike, but I guess a lot of people see it,” the freshman said.
But there are other traits and mannerisms the 6-foot-2, 295-pound defensive tackle has that remind people of Lawrence, who is 6-foot-5 and 345 pounds.
From the moment he got on campus in January, the freshman has been playing well. He studied the playbook, worked extra hard in the film room and plays with a pad level and aggression that resembles Clemson’s former All-American.
The freshman earned a starting spot in each of the first two games and has not disappointed anyone with his play. He currently has 7 tackles after two games, including a half sack and a half tackle for loss.
“It is very impressive. There was no doubt when he was declared the starter because he was by far the best guy over a long period of time in fall camp and he had the spring as well when those other guys were out,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “As we all know, that is a rare deal. I think Justyn Ross, as freakish as he is, he did not start a game until this year. It is hard as a true freshman, especially at that position. That is not normal.”
Davis has already done something two of his favorite players from Clemson never did. Christian Wilkins, a three-time All-American, never started as a freshman. Lawrence eventually started, but he did not start until the third game of his career.
“I am not saying he is Dexter, but as we know I am just validating and reinforcing (how good he is). It is a big deal,” Venables said. “He has great maturity to him, a focus that is just different. He is very mature beyond his years. He is physically mature. His coaches in high school and his family did a great job just raising a really grounded, hungry, tough, accountable young man. And he is just getting started.”
Part of Davis’ ability to learn quickly is his want to. In the spring, he would stay late watching film on his own, while encouraging his fellow young defensive linemen to join him. He also watched film with the veteran players like Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney.
“I always try to do anything to get me better and watch film of guys like Christian and Dex and see how they were so great at what they were doing. That is what I try to do,” Davis said.
The freshman even picked ideas and listened to Lawrence and Wilkins when they came back to Clemson for workouts prior to pro day and the NFL Draft.
“I got to spend a lot of time with them when they came back. We just worked out together,” Davis said. “We talked and we had fun. Always work hard and watch film and, you know, just be prepared.”
Lawrence, of course, had a little fun with Davis’ “Baby Dex” Nickname.
“Yeah, he sees it. He calls me his son and stuff like that. It is just a like joke,” Davis said while laughing.
But no one on the other side of the football is laughing when they see “Baby Dex” clogging up the middle or disrupting plays in the backfield.
“The other part of that, he does not get satisfied,” Venables said. “That is where a lot of young people, they want to be satisfied and ‘that is good enough.’ So, that is a challenge to a lot of our young guys on defense. The grind is real, and it only gets harder. You know, because it is a long season.
“So, the ability to sustain, the preparation to sustain, the right mindset to sustain, the work that you put in, the extra (effort) you put in, it is hard. That is why teams at the end of the year start dropping off like flies. They can’t do it. It is really, really hard to keep climbing and keep getting better. One of those things is how you handle success. The ability to handle success is a lot harder than handling adversity. So, he is a guy that does not get satisfied easily. He wants more and expects more. So, it is easy to keep him grounded and have some humility to him.”
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