When the locked front door to the McFadden Building rattled around 6 p.m. Wednesday night, everyone jumped.
A pack of Clemson beat writers were waiting for James Davis, who was, as usual, fashionably late for a meeting — this one with Tommy Bowden to determine his college football future.
I got the door, and it was Davis, trying to get in.
“You’re the man everybody’s been waiting for,” I said.
“I know,” he said with his usual million-watt smile.
After walking through the group of waiting writers, glad-handing as always, he walked into the meeting, which was pretty much a formality, and we all knew it.
A half-hour later, Davis made the news official: He was ending his Clemson career after three great seasons to try his luck in the NFL draft, where he’s projected as a third-round selection.
It was bittersweet news for Bowden and Clemson fans. After all, Davis is the program’s No. 2 all-time rusher and touchdown scorer.
For us writers, it was a different sort of bittersweet. As journalists, we’re trained to stay neutral, rooting for the story instead of the teams.
With Davis’ departure, though, we lose one of the best interviews — and best people — on the team.
Davis was never afraid to say exactly what he was thinking. There’s no filter on his mouth — with him, you always knew you were getting the truth, good or bad.
This season, we learned JD was as reliable off the field as he was between the tackles.
Most prominent Clemson players make their main interview appearance of the week at Tuesday’s press conference, where TV reporters, columnists and beat writers descend on the McFadden Building to talk with Bowden, his players and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
But Davis had a class conflict, meaning the best chance to catch him was Monday morning, when beat writers gather in Vickery Hall, Clemson’s academic support center, for group interviews with 4-5 players per week.
The players changed from week to week, but two guys — Davis and receiver Aaron Kelly — were a constant, every-week presence.
Davis always arrived near the end of the session, but he was always worth waiting for.
He’d talk for as long as you needed him to, answering the last question with just as much fresh insight as the first.
His now-famous “guarantee” of a win at Maryland — which he backed up with 129 yards and a touchdown — came from a Monday session.
He delivered the guarantee with a sense of quiet calm and fearlessness, which I suppose you get from growing up in Atlanta’s most infamous housing project — now-demolished East Lake Meadows, known as “Little Vietnam,” and watching friends get shot before your eyes.
He’s just as confident about making the NFL leap, and who can blame him for trying?
His family no longer lives in the projects, but he has a one-year-old daughter, Jakia, to support, and Davis thinks it’s the right time to go.
Good luck, James. Our tape recorders and notepads will miss you.