Most coaches are understandably tentative when it comes to young high school athletes. Who's to say whether a skinny, 5-foot-nothing freshman with all the talent in the world is really going to blossom into a chiseled, 6-foot Discobolos (the ancient Greek Discus Thrower)?
But four years ago Bladensburg coach Derek Tyler had no reservations anointing Davon McGill a star in the making. Before McGill had even graduated middle school, Tyler watched the kid closely as he worked out with the older, more mature high schoolers. The coach was so impressed he wanted McGill on the varsity right then. As an eighth grader.
"His work ethic was terrific, and his hands and route running were phenomenal for a kid that young," Tyler said. "He was better than our varsity kids as an eight grader. We knew he'd be a great one."
Tyler's premonitions proved correct, although he had to wait two years to reap the benefits. Instead of enrolling at Bladensburg after eighth grade, McGill spent his first two seasons lighting up the field at St. John's (D.C.) as a quarterback.
But last offseason financial issues forced him to transfer over to the Mustangs. Thrilled with his new acquisition, Tyler was all set to have McGill lead the offense under center. But it became quite clear early in the season that the junior phenom fit best at his natural positions.
At safety and receiver, McGill busted out in a big way. Defensively, he ranked among the team leaders with 72 tackles and two interceptions. And as a receiver in a run-heavy offense he hauled in 27 passes for 459 yards.
"No matter what the coaches asked me to do, I went all out," said the 6-foot-2, 185-pound McGill. "I was full throttle."
McGill set the tone in Week 1 against Roosevelt. He was the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable afternoon for Bladensburg.
On one play, Roosevelt ran a play-action pass and McGill bit on the fake. The Raiders' quarterback, Shawn Petty, sensed opportunity so he lofted a pass over the middle. But McGill stopped on a dime, changed direction and dove backwards. As the ball was descending, McGill reached out and snagged the interception - with one hand.
"Davon is a playmaker," said McGill's teammate, cornerback Rahman Kamara. "He made the plays when we needed him to. Whenever we were in a predicament he made something happen. He was a momentum changer."
The pick seemed to buoy McGill's confidence. He rode that momentum throughout the season, a primetime performer on a team with a less-than-primetime 3-7 record.
"On offense, his size and ball skills were tremendous," Tyler said. "He ran precise routes, and if the ball was anywhere within five feet of him he went up and got it. He had some freak catches where you look at them and you're like, 'How the heck did he do that?'"
The interception against Roosevelt proved that. But McGill might be even better at drilling receivers then catching errant throws.
Last year against Oxon Hill, the Clippers had the ball on the Bladensburg 1-yard line and were set to punch in for a score. They handed off to their running back, who took it straight up the gut. But McGill went air born, met the 'back head on and dropped him dead in his tracks.
"He's one of those guys you fear when he's in the box," Tyler said. "He's like a linebacker playing safety - a big kid that can run and really hit."
But McGill isn't just a natural football player who gets by on talent alone. He's a pretentious worker with an obsessive personality. That goes for all walks of life, whether it's football training, school work (he has over a 3.0 GPA) and even his TV-production club projects.
"Anything I do, I have to give 100 percent," McGill said. "That's just who I am. I won't be outworked."
McGill takes a lot of pride in how hard he works in the classroom, but his dedication is most visible on the gridiron. Besides endless weight-room work, McGill spends much of his time honing his footwork, his technique and his breaks.
As an underclassman, McGill tended to get crossed up on backpedals, so he spent hours running ladders and staying on the balls of his feet. When he lacked enough burst to create separation off the line, he began running hills and track so he could beat his man one-on-one.
"He doesn't know how to commit himself to something and not put everything into it," Tyler said. "That makes him special."
McGill would probably bristle at the term "special." Not that he completely disagrees with Tyler's assessment, but he usually deflects any and all praise. McGill goes about his business in a workmanlike manner, far from the spotlight. Unlike most defensive backs and receivers, whose mouth runs faster then their feet, McGill doesn't yap and yammer at all.
"Once in awhile I'll tell a joke," McGill said. "But I'm a quiet guy."
McGill may be shy and reserved in the locker room and in the school hallways, but on the field he's a little different.
"Before games he'll get in your face to get you ready; he takes this real personal," Kamara said. "He says what's on his mind, and he'll let you know how he feels. He's a great leader."
That may or may not be true; McGill's leadership hasn't exactly helped Bladensburg's winning percentage. The best they've done this decade is two .500 seasons.
Fortunately for him, the team's performance hasn't hurt his recruiting prospects. Several Division-I schools have already inquired about him, according to Tyler.
In fact, some say McGill compares favorably to Division-I recruit Jeremiah Hendy, the Bowie High star who last year dazzled at receiver and corner. McGill isn't quite as thick and explosive as Hendy, but their size and skill sets are similar.
But now the question is, Can McGill take his game to Hendy's level this offseason?
"I'm not backing down," McGill said. "I know I have to get stronger, faster, smarter -- I'm going to give everything I can to become an All-State player and an All-American."
An All-American? That would seem to be quite a long shot considering only the top prospects in the nation are bestowed with that honor.
Tyler, for his part, isn't ready to put McGill into that category. But the coach does believe he has Division-I potential.
"It's a no-brainer," Tyler said. "The only question is whether he's mid-major guy or if he can go to a bigger school. When you can make plays the way he did week after week, you kind of know the kid is special."
Of course, Tyler knew that four years ago.