Our second Gameday cover story featured the on and off the field relationship of last year’s first-round draft picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. The story discussed their bond as well as the lessons they learned from making 16 starts as rookie offensive linemen.
Team photographer Terrell Lloyd snapped the cover shot and the candid image of the two (at bottom of this post) after a recent training camp practice, which was turned into a quality cover by our graphic designer Ben Mayberry.
My story can be checked out here:
Brothers in Arms:
Together, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati embark on their second seasons in the NFL.
For a 323-pounder, Anthony Davis has unique athleticism. He has an even rarer sense of humor. Need proof? The same offensive tackle, who once dreamed of playing in the NBA, wasn’t afraid to hurdle a close friend, who happened to be a 331-pound guard crashing down toward his legs. There really wasn’t much of a choice for Davis in that moment of a recent practice. When a massive human being like Mike Iupati is close to making contact with you, the sensible thing is to avoid it at all costs. That’s exactly what Davis did, quickly hopping over his pal as gracefully as a lineman could have possibly done. In the end, Davis laughed the near collision off, smirking at Iupati on his way back to the huddle.
Scenes like that prove things are a little different in the second year of Davis and Iupati’s careers in the National Football League. Heavy expectations still exist, but both promising linemen have grown exponentially in terms of handling tough situations. After all, only two sets of offensive linemen accomplished what Davis and Iupati did in their first NFL seasons. The No. 11 and No. 17 overall selections in the 2010 draft became the third pair of rookie teammates to start all 16 games on the offensive line since the league instituted a 16-game regular season schedule in 1978. Talk about trial by fire.
Their stars, however, continued to become brighter throughout the regular season. Their friendship and football techniques grew as well. Inserted into the starting lineup just one week into training camp, both gifted big men earned the right to start 16 times in the regular season. They leaned on each other throughout the year. Every city – they roomed together – making sure to stick to their pregame routines. Having each other’s back made things much easier, too. “He’s a great brother and a great friend to me,” says Iupati of Davis, who he first met years back at the Walter Camp College Football Awards. “I was so happy we came in the league together. Without Anthony, it would have been tough.”
Early on, the wide-eyed, linemen learned to deal with rookie hardships through counseling one another. Everything they went through was relatable. There were loud stadiums, heart-breaking losses, one-on-one battles with Pro Bowl competitors, sacks and fumbles allowed, penalties called and minor injuries to be ignored. But make no mistake, there were plenty of triumphant moments. Dominant primetime performances, mauling matchups in the trenches, pancake blocks aplenty, as well as personal and professional growth, all shaped the storylines for both linemen’s inaugural season in the pros.
“Embrace the grind,” says the 6-foot-5 Davis. It’s a saying championed by the young tackle since his college days at Rutgers. Really, the mantra never left his mind. So when Davis, a physical run-blocker, experienced the ups and downs of his first NFL season, he vowed to come back stronger, tweeting the hashtag #embracethegrind periodically this offseason. “He’s very determined,” says Iupati of his nimble teammate. “He wants to get better – that’s the thing I see in his eyes every day.”
The University of Idaho product, who stands 6-foot-5 just as Davis, also experienced his share of rookie growing pains. Although he’s considered to be one of the league’s top emerging interior linemen, Iupati made his share of mistakes and learned how to get better from them. With newfound knowledge, Iupati is also working towards bigger things for his sophomore campaign. “The experience we had last year makes us better,” says Iupati. “We’ve been through the game – we know what’s coming.”
Davis, too, appreciates the lessons learned from 16 examinations against top competition. Coming off a college career in which he allowed less than five sacks in three seasons, Davis was tested immediately upon entering the NFL. Not being able to dominate initially like he had on the collegiate level hardened the 21-year-old. “Here, if you make a mistake, it turns you into a man,” admits Davis. “You have to go back to the sideline and look at your peers with your head up… Everything I went through taught me.”
Teammates on the offensive line now recognize changes in both players, who came into camp even more physically and mentally developed this year. Offensive line coach Mike Solari sees growth, too. He spends the most time with the duo, instructing them along with fellow line coach Tim Drevno. “They’re more confident in the sense of understanding what’s expected of them,” says Solari, who appreciates his young linemen for staying healthy while working to earn starting positions as rookies.
What makes the relationship between the two linemen most unique is how their communication extends way past typical work hours. “I can talk to Mike about anything and we talk about everything,” says Davis of his brother from another mother. “We talk about our lives, our family and everything else.”Unlike most early 20-year-olds, Davis and Iupati find comfort chilling together on the weekends. Staying in is important to both players, who aren’t seeking added attention, but merely someone who can relate to what they’re experiencing. “I affiliate myself with great people,” shares Iupati. “I knew Anthony was a great guy from the first time I met him. He was a family-oriented dude, who loves life and is a great person.”
Off the field, Davis and Iupati have become extremely tight. Besides spending the offseason pushing one another through rigorous workouts, the two had plenty of barbecue cookouts, where they’d get to know each other’s families. They even let their dogs, Iupati’s English bulldog “Teine,” and his Dachshund “Marley,” and Davis’ pitbull “Bella Biggie Paws,” and Rottweiler “Dirk,” run wild in Iupati’s backyard. Considering where and how they were raised, you wouldn’t think Davis and Iupati would be so tight. Davis hails from Piscataway, N.J., while Iupati grew up in Anaheim, Calif., by way of American Samoa. But no matter the differences, they’ve formed an unbreakable bond.
Aside from their activities outside of football, both players are committed to winning and becoming the best they can possibly be. And because of their experiences in a 6-10 rookie campaign filled with downturns and triumphs, both players appreciate the lessons learned. It made them who they are today, two promising linemen, and two solid individuals. “We went through it,” says Iupati. “We saw pros do it and now we are pros. We consider ourselves young, but we’re still learning. Nothing is said and done.”
Still, it’s fair to say the pair of linemen appears hungry for greater success in 2011. They’re also each other’s biggest supporters. “Mike’s a beast,” says Davis. “He’s probably one of the most powerful dudes in the league right now.” Meanwhile, Iupati marvels over the things Davis can do. “He’s a phenomenal athlete and people really don’t know that,” says Iupati. “He’s just a hard-worker and he’ll get his job done.” And after learning of Davis’ description, like a good friend, Iupati chimes in right on time, “He’s a beast, too.”
Tags: Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati
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