Jordan Davis’ objective was simple: Get to the bag.
In front of Davis were three offensive linemen stacked in a single-file line. First was Grant Gibson, who’s starting at center for N.C. State this fall and started all 12 games in 2019.
Next was future South Carolina center Eric Douglas, now in his fifth year in Columbia and an anchor on the Gamecocks’ offensive line.
The final line of defense was T.J. Moore, who’d spend three years at Florida before transferring to Charlotte this past offseason.
“That drill is not for the meek,” former Mallard Creek High School assistant coach Marques Reese told The State. “It is not for the faint.”
Flying off the line as a whistle sounded, Davis threw a swim move and slipped past Gibson. Davis then bullied his way past Douglas and rushed by Moore.
Each of the discarded linemen headed back toward the bag and reset to try and stop Davis. It took all three of them to slow his path. Finally, a whistle blew the drill dead.
“We just had to attack him, man,” Douglas told The State through a laugh. “Once that big human got moving, it’s hard to stop.”
Together, Douglas and Davis helped form one of the more formidable offensive and defensive fronts in the last decade of North Carolina high school football, or the “trench mob” as Reese later dubbed them.
In their two years together at Mallard Creek, the Mavericks finished 24-5 and won the 2015 state title.
On Saturday, the former high school teammates meet opposite one another when Douglas and South Carolina head down to Athens to take on Davis’ No. 2-ranked Georgia squad.
Asked during SEC Media Days in June whether there were any offensive lineman he’d be wary of during the upcoming season, Davis dug back into the yearbook.
“Honestly, the only person I’m looking forward to playing is my old high school teammate Eric Douglas,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to play against South Carolina last year, but Eric Douglas is a great player. … I’m really excited to get back out there and just be able to go against him, see how good he got.”
Building a dynasty in Charlotte
Davis got his start in football more through coaxing from his mother than any internal desire.
During the summer prior to his transfer from Hopewell High School to Mallard Creek as a sophomore, Davis’ mother, Shay Allen, came home from teaching summer school to a nearly empty pantry. Jordan had made a major dent in that week’s groceries.
“I said, ‘Hey guy, when we transfer to Mallard Creek, I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you’re going to need to get out of this house while I’m at work,’ ” Allen recalled jokingly.
Football provided the perfect outlet. Davis was already starring in AAU basketball when Allen took him to register for classes at Mallard Creek. In the office, head football coach Michael Palmieri’s wife, Katherine, caught a glimpse of Davis’ size and insisted he meet her husband.
A trip down the hall to Michael’s office ensued. Allen assured Jordan would play football that fall.
“Do y’all feed them breakfast and lunch?” Allen queried.
“Yes,” Palmieri assured.
“‘He will be there,” Allen declared. “He can be a water boy, he can be whatever.’ ”
“All the time he’ll say, ‘Ma can you believe I almost didn’t play football?’ “ Allen told The State. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I can. I remember.’ ”
Douglas, by contrast, played football his entire life. He started at 8 years old and began running and bear crawling up hills with his father, Eric Sr., not long after.
Eric Sr. quips it took “Little Eric” time to adjust to the contact of the game.
On the first play of Eric’s youth career, he headed toward a gap when Jaire Alexander — who later starred at Louisville prior to his NFL career and is two years Douglas’ senior — headed toward him. Douglas side-stepped away from the hole as Alexander raced down the field for a score.
“Eric was like a matador,” Eric Sr. said. “He got out of the way and Jaire went 80 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.”
That Mallard Creek roster was littered with future Division I prospects was more a norm than once-in-a-generation luck.
The school has only been in existence for 14 years, but has won three state titles during that span.
Mallard Creek’s football alumni include Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels and Cincinnati Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss, among others.
Davis — who wasn’t made available for this story — is next in line of those dominant prep stars as a projected first-round pick in next spring’s NFL draft. Douglas too could find his way onto a pro roster after the season.
“Eric is the type of kid that will find his way and will play the NFL for 10, 11 years,” said former Mallard Creek offensive line coach Tirrell Greene, who played at the University of Miami with Pro Football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. “… He has all these intangibles that allow him to be successful.”
Added Palmieri: “The competition in practice every day was, to be honest with you, harder than a lot of the games.”
Eric Sr. remembers looking toward the Mavericks’ sidelines on any given night during his son’s high school tenure. There were Humphries, Samuels and Moss, cheering on their alma mater when released from obligations at Florida, N.C. State and LSU, respectively.
“Those guys would come back on their off weeks to watch the high school play,” Eric Sr. said. “Eric and those guys fed off of that.”
A third-consecutive North Carolina state title
Each member of Mallard Creek’s coaching staff has vivid memories of Douglas and Davis.
Three tell the story of the gauntlet drill and Davis’ superhuman strength fighting through three future Division I offensive linemen.
Reese thinks back to a 2015 semifinal game at East Forsyth High School during Douglas’ junior year.
Mallard Creek trailed by a field goal in overtime.
Douglas and quarterback James Smith Jr. — who’s now at Eastern Kentucky — approached Palmieri.
“Coach, give me the damn ball,” Smith said.
“Coach, run it to my damn side,” Douglas echoed.
First came a quarterback keeper toward the left side. Douglas mowed over his defender as Smith rumbled forward.
Smith followed with a speed option to the same side. When the edge defender broke toward him, Smith flipped the ball out to running back Chancery Bowman. Douglas sealed the edge out in front as Bowman scampered into the end zone.
Mallard Creek was headed toward its third consecutive state title.
“With the talent that we had on the field, there was no way that we should be getting stopped,” Douglas said. “We put that talent on display and we went on and won three state championships, and it was pretty special. I appreciate those times.”
Georgia, South Carolina and one last meeting of former teammates
Allen and the Douglas family have remained close since Eric and Jordan’s time at Mallard Creek.
Shay and Eric’s mother, Charlene, both taught at Hidden Valley Elementary in Charlotte — overlapping for a year before Charlene retired. Charlene had second-graders at the time. Shay took the third-graders.
The moms still trade messages whenever South Carolina and Georgia face off. There’s some light banter about each team’s chances on a given week, but it’s kept friendly.
“I told Charlene, ‘Don’t make me go out on that field because (Eric) hurt my baby,’ “ Allen said laughing. “And she said the same thing.”
“I remember the first time I saw Jordan play at Mallard Creek, I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. Who is that big boy? I sure am glad he and Eric are on the same team,’ ” Charlene recounted through a chuckle. “As time went on they were rivals (at South Carolina and Georgia), but that’s OK. They’re friends.”
Saturday should be the final edition of the annual meeting between high school teammates as Douglas already graduated and Davis is all but certainly headed to the NFL this spring.
After the 2020 Georgia-South Carolina game, Douglas and Davis — who dressed last year but didn’t play due to injury — posed on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium. Both cracked half smiles as their respective white and red helmets rest at their feet.
Davis and Douglas have grown since their days cracking shoulder pads along the fields at Mallard Creek. Davis is now a hulking 6-foot-6, 340 pounds. Douglas too has added 40 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame since arriving in Columbia.
There won’t be any gauntlet drills on Saturday in Athens. Davis and Douglas, though, will get one last shot at one another.