PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- It was after a game, fairly early in what would be that magical 2006 season.
He was leaning up against a wall, across from the Rutgers locker room, wearing a black jacket. He looked like he could've shouldered the whole building with that one lean and so I asked him his name.
"Anthony Davis," he said, quietly, but politely too.
Without any brush off, and with him still looking at me patiently, I asked him how old he was. He said 16, I said something about my high school not growing them that big and then I asked him if he was coming to Rutgers.
"I'm thinking about it," he said.
"If you do," I said, "you'll get to talk to me for the next four years."
"Three," he said, showing me for the first time that impish grin I'd soon spend - yes, three - years smiling back at.
Davis announced Tuesday he'll forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, making official what just about every Rutgers follower had to know. No lobbying would've made a difference, no promise could've kept him. No, Davis said, nothing could put off his dream any longer.
"It's been in my heart for a while," he said, wearing a black and white button-down shirt, standing behind a podium in Rutgers' team room and still speaking quietly.
Davis had walked into the room almost bashfully, seeking out a familiar face and with, yes, that same shy smile. He's dreamed of this since he was seven, since he whooped at the sight of the Seahawks' Walter Jones upending people and since he bawled, he said, at the scene of the Super Bowl on his TV screen.
He's an All-American, months from becoming Rutgers' highest draft pick ever. And yet, Davis still has none of the same self-assured gregarious swagger Ray Rice and Kenny Britt had oozed in the two years before him, when they'd become the Scarlet Knights' first early entrants. Davis is a classic lineman. And a beast of one too.
He's a 6-foot-6 325-pound left tackle who "punishes people," according to quarterback Tom Savage. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said Tuesday that Davis will "be a dominant player in that league."
He's a consensus first-round pick, pegged as the country's seventh-best prospect on an SI.com list and as the nation's best junior tackle in ESPN analyst Mel Kiper's ratings. He was slotted ninth in ESPN.com analyst Todd McShay's latest mock draft, and even as Davis himself said he hasn't and won't put too much stock in any of that, he did sweetly admit, "It's nice to hear."
He's still only 20, with his next birthday not coming until what should be the second month of his NFL career. He's not all naive innocence -- Schiano suspended him (and Britt) for the Morgan State game in 2008, he spent six days with the second team during this past camp after he let a summertime eye injury bloat his weight a tad, and he sacrificed a start at Army in the fall, after sliding into a team lunch late.
But he's in no way a bad kid. Just one conversation will prove there's neither "baggage" nor attitude to him, and he said Tuesday he's certain he'll erase that tag -- assigned him by the draftnik McShay -- soon enough. Schiano said he's not worried by any of it either, that as much as Davis will physically impress at the combine, he may do more with that quiet mouth.
"He loves the game of football, that is the number one," Schiano said. "This kid, he's a football player, he loves it."
By all accounts, and my own eyes, he does -- and his teammates, too. This year during camp, when right tackle Kevin Haslam went down, dropped his helmet and called for a trainer, it was Davis who picked up his helmet, followed him over to the sideline and waited for the trainers to pause. When they did, he told Haslam, "I'm holding onto your helmet," and he did, for the next 20 minutes.
After long touchdown passes, I've watched him run back to congratulate a left-behind Savage before racing to join the rest of the offense in the end zone. He takes all his linemates' teasing, except of course when they started calling him "Ginobli," after that one-quarter suspension at Army and in honor of the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year.
Because after all, underneath all the playful charm, there's a steely drive, the one without which he wouldn't be so appealing. It's the one that has him cueing up a highlight reel of Orlando Pace, in a 1996 domination of Penn State, on YouTube every single day. It's the one that had him say last week, before Rutgers' St. Petersburg Bowl win over Central Florida, that he was grossly disappointed he hadn't yet had a game where he dominated every play.
He did have a great game. He has had a great three years. So now, off he goes, free to sign with an agent Jan. 15, head out to the combine Feb. 24 and finally fulfill what he said Tuesday was "always in the back of my head."
And somewhere, in the back of my head, I'll still see that 16-year old kid. The one who once upon a time had to introduce himself.