At 33 years of age, Redskins tight end Vernon Davis keeps on trucking and having success, all thanks to a healthy lifestyle and devotional mindset.
As reporters gather around the locker of Washington tight end Vernon Davis, there is a mutual understanding between the player and the media: Davis is ready to answer questions, but only after he gets his protein shake.
The 33-year-old NFL veteran, who consumes the viscous brown liquid daily before addressing reporters, has played his entire professional career with personal health at the forefront of his mind.
"I just figured in order to be a pro, a real pro, you have to do what professionals do," Davis said. "Just from having common sense, I know that it's right to make sure I'm consuming the proper nutrition I need to have in order to get going."
Davis came into the league back in 2006 after being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. A Washington, D.C. native, Davis attended the University of Maryland, recording 1,371 receiving yards for the Terrapins in three seasons. Davis recounted how before entering the draft, he realized his diet needed to change if he wanted to succeed at the professional level.
"I started eating properly right before I got drafted, during that time where we were preparing for the draft," he said. "Protein and amino acids, those things are essential to recovery as well as your muscles reproducing and just developing over time."
His dedication to a healthy lifestyle paid off, as he recorded a 4.43-second 40-yard dash in the NFL combine. The 49ers took notice and drafted the young Davis with the sixth-overall pick in the 2006 draft.
From there, Davis replicated his routine of a healthy diet and regular protein consumption, and his game offered living proof of the benefits. A minor fracture in his fibula kept him from completing a full 16-game season his rookie year, but he still managed 265 receiving yards and three touchdowns, including a 31-yard touchdown on his first ever reception in the NFL.
In his second season, Davis again missed time due to a minor injury, this time to his knee. Despite this, he still played in 14 games and nearly doubled his production from the previous season.
Three years into his NFL career, Davis became unstoppable, going five straight seasons without missing a game. In 2008, his best year in the league, Davis recorded 965 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Davis said that while most NFL players relax their diet in the offseason, the key to his success has been keeping in shape even during his downtime, a method he hopes younger players will also adopt.
"My advice is to follow that blueprint. During the offseason, make sure you take care of yourself the same way you do during the season, when you're in-season," he said. "Nutrition is huge, probably the No. 1 component when it comes to longevity. Eat more vegetables and fruit. Stay on top of your protein pre- and post-workout."
Davis, now a seasoned veteran playing just 20 miles from where he grew up, is still performing at the top of his game, and his coaches and teammates have taken notice.
"We call him el caballo because he's like a thoroughbred the way he runs down the field," Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We always talk about his hamstrings and how they're like the hamstrings of a 19-year-old. Special player, but I keep going back to he's a great player, but he's a better person. He's not a guy who acts entitled. He's a guy who could at his age and experience level. He is just very humble, hungry and is just a fun guy to play football with."
Meanwhile, head coach Jay Gruden, who has started Davis in the absence of tight end Jordan Reed, dubbed Davis the "ageless wonder," praising his incredible speed at 33 years old. Even before the season began, Gruden told reporters that Davis was running around the practice field like he was 20 years old, with no signs of slowing down.
"I don't know if you guys had an opportunity to read up on Tom Brady, 'TB12 method' and everything that he does," Davis said. "I feel like it's similar, the way that he takes care of his body. I was intrigued by reading that article in the ESPN magazine. It's pretty awesome, because it kind of resonates with me, just from eating healthy, getting proper sleep, stimulating your mind mentally when it comes to visualization. All of those things go hand in hand, and if you can really indulge in those things, those techniques and make it a part of your everyday life and what you do, make it a habit, a good healthy habit, then I feel like it will take you a long way."
Davis has two seasons remaining on his current contract with the Redskins. Meanwhile, he continues to make clean cuts and one-handed catches in practice, on pace with the rest of his younger teammates. According to Davis, as long as his production stays consistent, so will his lifestyle.
"It's just a conjunction of everything," Davis said. "Everything goes hand in hand: massages, chiropractor, stretching, protein at the right time, amino acids and eating properly. If you're really cognizant of those things, you'll have that longevity that you're seeking when it comes to playing the game for such a long time."