Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
CORTLAND, N.Y. - It is a few minutes after practice, and Demario Davis is demonstrating the technique he learned over the summer from Stephen Boyd, the former Valley Stream Central football star who coaches Chaminade. It is a stunningly simple change, yet one so fundamental to the Jets inside linebacker's success that he still can't quite believe it.
Davis stands with feet slightly apart, moves his right foot one step to the side, then pulls it back. Left foot goes to the other side, then back. Right foot forward one step, then back. Left foot backward, then forward.
He looks more like a young man preparing for his first formal dance by doing the "box step'' than an NFL linebacker using the footwork he believes will help elevate him from a very good player to one of the very best.
And maybe even the best, thanks in large part to that Long Island high school coach.
"You pretty much have a box that's about a yard outside of you,'' Davis said. "A yard in front, a yard behind, and you never want to overstep that box. You never want to cross over [your steps] inside that box while you're playing in the 'court,' because the ball can come at you and you might not be in the right position. Step by step, stay in the court, stay in position and keep good body position all the time. Shoulders over your knees, keep your feet straight ahead, not turned out. It's the little mechanics that make a big difference.''
Words to live by for Davis, who believes his career is ready to take off thanks to Boyd, a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Lions from 1995-2001. The former Valley Stream Central star running back/linebacker coached Chaminade to the Catholic High School Football League AAA championship in 2012 and made it back to the title game last year. He has become a guru for Davis, who hopes to transfer those lessons to take his game to a new level.
"That's my goal every time, to be the best,'' Davis said. "That's going to take a lot, I understand. I feel like I'm a premier linebacker in this league, but if you want to be great, you have to be consistent. My job now is to prove to the world that I'm a premier linebacker so that I can get that respect. From there, I go toward being the best.''
Boyd isn't betting against his protégé. And he's not just saying that, nor is he trying to promote Davis because he happens to be imparting his football wisdom to him.
"It's a privilege to work with someone who has that desire to be better,'' said Boyd, 41, whom the Lions drafted out of Boston College in the fifth round. "There are guys in the NFL who are blessed with natural talent, but it's the guys who are looking to go the extra mile that really become the best. Demario has that. He's not going to be outworked.''
Davis sought Boyd's help at the suggestion of his New York-based agent, Jericho resident Alan Herman. He also represented Boyd during his NFL career and thought he could help Davis improve.
It was a perfect fit.
"You have to appreciate that when your agent looks you straight in the eye and says, 'This is what you're missing in terms of getting over the hump,' '' Davis said.
"He was right.''
Boyd and Davis got together half a dozen times during the offseason, with Boyd putting him through workouts that lasted about two hours. Boyd could tell right away that Davis was taking to his coaching, which included detailed tape study of Davis' movements.
"He was like a sponge with everything we went over,'' Boyd said. "When he came back for the second [session], he was really making a lot of progress.''
Boyd stresses sticking to the basics. It starts when Davis squats into position, knees bent, back straight, shoulders and head forward.
"When you get to the moment of impact,'' Boyd said, "whether it's going to be a tackle or getting off a block or changing position, the idea is to be in the best position possible, so that every movement you make is efficient and you're not wasting any time.
"When you're able to move flawlessly like that, that's when you're going to start making more plays.''
Davis believes he'll be making more plays, and hopes to count on Boyd's teaching for the rest of his career.
"He really understands football, but he's an even better person,'' Davis said of Boyd. "Great morals, cares about people. Cares about the people at his school. Seeing a guy who's done so much with his life, and to be so humble and give back, you have a lot of respect for him.''
Boyd appreciates the kind words but believes any improvement Davis shows isn't a reflection on the coaching.
"You have to remember, this is all Demario,'' Boyd said. "I'm taking no credit. It's his attitude and his potential. It's just off the charts.''