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Namesakes Share Talents : Another Davis, Another Top Santa Monica Linebacker

October 23, 1986|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

Senior Eric Davis of Santa Monica High School is not related to USC redshirt junior Keith Davis but they have one common denominator: both are linebackers.

And both have been uncommonly good linebackers for Santa Monica High Coach Tebb Kusserow, who has had more than a few in his long tenure as head coach of a highly successful program.

Keith Davis was twice The Times' Westside Lineman of the Year before going on to play at USC with former Santa Monica teammate Sam Anno. Anno, a senior, another top linebacker, suffered torn knee ligaments against Washington State University on Oct. 11 and saw his career as a Trojan come to an end.

Mel Kaufman, who has played for some strong Washington Redskin teams, got his first taste of linebacking at Santa Monica High, as did Eric Davis. The line even includes Eric's Uncle Dwight, who was a defensive end and linebacker for Samohi in 1973 and 1974.

"Generally, what you're looking for are certainly the better, larger athletes who can move well and have a lot of strength," said Kusserow, who has found and helped develop these linebackers.

At 6 feet and 218 pounds, Eric Davis, the team's top tackler and defensive leader, has all these attributes, but he is no carbon copy of Keith Davis, Anno or the others.

"He's not as tall or as quick as Keith," Kusserow said, "but he is a little bit quicker than Sam was. Eric is very strong and he moves to the ball very well."

He wasn't always that way.

When he was a ninth-grader at John Adams Junior High and came to Santa Monica High to play defensive end and fullback for the Viking sophomore team, he was known as "Big Boy." He was 5-10 and 180 and a "little fat," he said, so his friends nicknamed him for the hamburger.

Davis didn't take kindly to that sobriquet. He felt it wasn't appropriate for the football player he hoped to become.

So he set about changing his appearance and began lifting weights at a neighborhood business called Wilbur's Garage, which has long made its weight room available to Santa Monica High athletes.

After three years of lifting and a high-protein diet, Davis added 48 pounds of muscle and looks about as much like a hamburger as the automobiles repaired at Wilbur's. Now he specializes in making ground meat out of quarterbacks and ball-carriers and the nickname on his football jersey is "Big E." He also has used the added muscle to become a top shot-putter on the track team.

Davis said Kusserow has taught him that there is a relationship between football and shot-putting.

"Coach Kusserow tells me that when I throw the shot I should put a lot of momentum into it, and that has kind of taught me to be explosive in football."

That it has. Anyone who has been tackled by Davis knows he's been hit--and could be forgiven if he thought it was by a guided missile.

When he explodes against a ball carrier, something is triggered inside him. It is evident he enjoys making a good, hard tackle, and he goes into a little celebratory dance, thrusting his arms over his head and yelling. It doesn't seem to be a derisive act against the player he has just pole-axed, but one of pure enjoyment.

"When you overpower someone it makes you so emotionally high that you want to do it again," he said.

When teammates knock an enemy on his posterior, Davis he gets a kick out of that, too. "I feel the same way when my friends make a good hit. It's the same feeling."

Soft-spoken and gentlemanly off the football field, Davis does not seem the sort to derive enjoyment from pulling the wings off flies or giving someone a good going-over with a cat-o-nine-tails.

Hitting hard is the nature of football and the nature isn't getting any softer. Players are getting bigger, stronger, tougher and hitting harder.

Kusserow said that in 1972, it seemed that being a big high school player meant weighing between 200 and 225 pounds. In recent years, the big players seem to be getting even bigger, he said.

In 1972, he said, "maybe 20% of the players weighed 245 or above. Now I think 65% to 70% are 245 and up."

He said that if he had children who wanted to play "with people that size, I would tell them that they have got to be big, strong and work at it."

Kusserow said he doubts that high school players are using steroids in an effort to build muscle.

"I don't think so," he said. "I don't know, but I certainly haven't heard about a lot of it (steroid use). But a lot of kids ask us about protein supplements."

He said he is less afraid that players will put steroids in their bodies than he is of the massive growth of players without them.

"The bodies are so big and strong that the collisions generate a lot of force and energy," he said. "I think that for the pros, at least, the field has gotten too small for the teams."

Does that mean that Kusserow plans to tell his hit men in football pads to take things easier on other players?

No, he said, "I tell them to play with maximum intensity." Some things don't change.

Davis said he sometimes wishes he could change back from middle linebacker to his old position of defensive end.

He said a middle linebacker carries a lot of responsibilities and has to think about reading "your assignments. When you're in the middle you can't leave too soon and often you've got to make the stop on a ball carrier. At defensive end you can free-lance a little bit or rush the passer."

But he is happy that he is no longer a ball carrier at fullback.

"I like to hit," he said, "rather than be hit myself."

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