Nice, but malicious.
That’s how a teammate described Bonney Lake High School’s Caleb Davis, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior lineman.
Off the field?
“He’s the nicest guy I know,” running back and safety Jason Day said.
“Biggest teddy bear ever,” linebacker Riley Teed said.
“The last game, just as the quarterback was handing off the ball, he smashed right into him. Just smashed him,” quarterback and defensive end Kaiden Hammond said.
His friendly personality comes from his upbringing, as the man of the house growing up with his single mother.
Now he’s Bonney Lake’s man in the middle on its dominant defense.
“I’ve just always loved defense,” Davis said. “I just love getting after people.”
Davis not only leads the 3A Pierce County League with eight sacks to go with his nine tackles for loss, but he’s in the top five in the league in total tackles (40).
He’s led Bonney Lake’s defense in tackles in three of the past four weeks, finishing with 11 in last week’s win over Wilson in which the Panthers allowed 10 total rushing yards.
It’s that defense that’s helped vault the Panthers to five consecutive wins after a season-opening nonleague loss to 4A Sumner.
The Panthers have allowed the fewest yards (208.6 per game), the second-fewest points (19.3), and they have the No. 1 turnover ratio (plus-11) in the 3A PCL.
Much of that is because of Davis.
“I keep telling it to college coaches — maybe other than Kavario Middleton, Caleb is as good as any other defensive lineman that I’ve coached,” said Bonney Lake coach Jason Silbaugh, who helped coach Middleton, a former U.S. Army All-American, when he was the defensive coordinator at Lakes from 2004-2012.
Silbaugh spoke of Davis as he mentioned eventual UW signee Sione Potoa’e and Central Washington University signee Tupou Manaea.
“And that’s not to take anything away from them. That’s just to give props to Caleb. He’s as good as any of those guys. He’s a stud and I just love the kid.”
Not bad for a teddy bear.
Davis, who is half-Samoan, was born in South Jordan, Utah, where he said his first love was soccer, playing forward.
It was just he and his mother. Davis said he’s never met his father.
They’d visit family daily when they lived in Utah, he said. His grandfather would take him to watch BYU soccer matches.
His grandfather told Davis stories of his own football playing days.
“He was too nice,” Davis said. “He says he didn’t like hitting and hurting people. So he stopped playing.”
Davis simply separates the two — off the field versus on it.
When Davis was in the sixth grade, the family moved to Boise after his mom and stepfather married. He has a sister who is eight years younger.
“I think she is what helped me become more protective,” said Davis.
He said his mother and grandfather were his greatest influences, teaching him to always treat people with kindness and respect.
“Those two have been the biggest role models in my life,” Davis said.
He started playing football in the eighth grade — just before he and his family landed in Washington the summer before his freshman year. And when he was playing varsity as a sophomore, he knew he wanted to keep playing beyond high school.
“That is the main goal,” Davis said as he exhaled deeply.
“I’ve been working hard to get that first (scholarship) offer. It’s been on my mind. But I just try not to worry about it because the season is more important right now. I know it will just come.”
Silbaugh instilled a run- and defense-first philosophy when he took over the program five years ago. The Panthers went from something of an air raid in his first year to the smash-mouth brand they now play.
“We call ourselves the Black Swarm,” Teed said. “We want to be in the backfield and have all 11 guys swarming to the ball.”
“It took a while,” Silbaugh said. “Even last year what saved us was our defense. In the end, in high school football, if you can run the ball and play defense you are going to win some games.”
It’s why he wasn’t afraid to play Hammond, Bonney Lake’s quarterback, at defensive end next to Davis.
That allowed Davis, who went from 240 pounds last year to 285 now, to play more on the inside of the line, though the Panthers still move him around. A season-ending injury to defensive end and running back Marcus Hamilton will force Bonney Lake to get more creative.
Silbaugh compared Davis’ play to that of J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, even if Davis prefers to model himself after Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams.
“We really like the way he causes issues inside,” Silbaugh said.
But he also starts at right tackle … and he’s averaging 43 yards per punt.
“Both ways, he’s the guy,” Hammond said. “That’s the guy we like to run behind. We got a big line, but he’s the centerpiece at right tackle. Then on defense we know he’s going to be solid every game.”
He was selected as the co-defensive lineman of the year in the 3A South Puget Sound League last year, and he has the scuffs, scrapes and scratches on his helmet to prove it. He then helped lead Bonney Lake to its first state playoff victory in school history with a win over Lincoln in the first round last year.
“The biggest thing with Caleb is not physical or football-wise,” Silbaugh said. “It’s his selflessness. That’s what makes him a great teammate. Any college that gets him is going to get the ultimate teammate. He would do anything. That’s his biggest attribute.
“Then, of course, all the physical gifts he has.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677