Beyond expectations

Kittens? Metallica? Saying the word "decor?" Young, rich and single, rookie guard Davin Joseph defies stereotypes.

Published October 22, 2006

The early evening sun glistens off the lake in his back yard. The sparkling swimming pool practically calls your name on this humid day. And the tall, dramatic ceilings in the rotunda of this 5,000-square-foot mansion are awe-inspiring.

It's obvious that life is good. Joseph became the Buccaneers' first-round pick in April, signed a $10-million contract in July and made his long-awaited first pro start one week ago after a knee injury caused a monthlong postponement.

Now the right guard is the man around whom the Bucs hope to build a formidable offensive line. Being the highest drafted and highest paid of the five linemen who will start against the Eagles today pretty much grants him that distinction.

"It's good to know that they're going to give me a chance to solidify myself in this organization," Joseph said. "Coach Jon Gruden believes in me, and that's a great feeling."

At this particular moment, Joseph is not thinking much about his role for the Bucs. He's too wrapped up in the episode of World Series of Poker playing out on the LCD television in his family room. Joseph is just getting on board with the poker phenomenon, but he's already hooked.

"I'm all about this poker thing now. I just learned how to play," he said, adding he sometimes hosts poker games.

Just don't expect him to gamble.

"Oh no," he said. "I don't bet. I get too many bumps and bruises for my money to just lose it."

If he isn't sitting on the couch, you often can find him in the office, where he typically is at the computer downloading music from iTunes. He goes through phases with his taste in music. These days, it's classic rock, Metallica and Aerosmith in particular.

"I love rap and R&B, but sometimes I like to switch it up," he said. "I think my next thing might be alternative."

His other favorite spot: in the sitting area of the master suite, where there's a couch and Xbox video game system. This is where Joseph drifts to sleep most nights, clutching the remote control.

If you came expecting more, you'd be terribly disappointed. Joseph's life is anything but an episode of ESPN's Playmakers. The rowdiest thing that happens around here might be the occasional hotly contested video game marathon between Joseph and his friends. Most nights, Joseph is in bed by 10.

And this isn't your typical bachelor pad, either. One might expect a 22-year-old's home to be littered with beer cans and dirty laundry. Not here. The house is immaculate, thanks in part to the once-a-week cleaning lady but mostly because Joseph is so unabashedly proud of it.

"That's his pride and joy," his mother, Minnie, said.

Who knew a man who mauls defensive linemen for a living could have a thing for decorating? Turns out, Joseph is pretty much Martha Stewart minus the dress. He spends Tuesdays, when players are off, scouring area furniture stores for the right mix of components.

"I'm trying to get this certain type of decor going here," said Joseph, who has been in the house for only a few months. "I like that big, traditional type of furniture; the dark, heavy wood, sturdy stuff."

Humble and cheap

Joseph is a long way from his humble beginnings in Hallandale, located in southern Broward County. He can afford to do pretty much whatever he wishes now. But he still isn't one to splurge.

He refused to hire an interior designer because "that's too much money to spend all at once." Asked what he did to spoil himself, he says his biggest leap was buying the house, and "the rest of the money, I just put it away."

He even complains about the electric bill, which hovers around $500 per month. He once racked up an $800 bill and nearly had a conniption.

"I don't care how much money you have, that hurts," he said.

He's just a simple guy who comes from simple beginnings. When he was little, his mother left the house around sunrise, working 12-hour days six days a week. When she got home, his father left and worked all night doing industrial cleaning.

Both are still working, though far fewer hours. They refuse to take their son's money. He convinced them to take some cash for a home-improvement project and bought his father a new Ford pickup without his knowledge.

Seems Davin took on most of their qualities.

"He never liked the spotlight or extravagant things," his father, Elie, said. "He knows where he comes from."

That aspect of his personality has made adapting to his sudden celebrity status difficult for Joseph. From the moment he pulls his Chevy SUV or S-class Mercedes (he leases both because it's cheaper) into the parking lot at the nearby Publix supermarket, it's as if things come to a standstill.

He never ceases to be amazed how everyone knows him by name. Sometimes, it's, "Hello, Mr. Joseph." Other times, it's just, "Hey, Davin." Either way, Joseph gets the same warm feeling.

"I've had so many great opportunities, gotten to meet so many important people, all that. I could go on and on," he said. "But the biggest eye-opener since I've gotten to the NFL has been just realizing that you're in the public eye - big time.

"To me, it doesn't matter. I don't think I'm a big deal. But you are a big deal. My job is so important to so many people. It really gives you a big platform. And that's a big responsibility."

Joseph can't understand what all the fuss is about. He just knows his phone rings a lot more these days. Because he has company on this particular evening, he turns the ringer off on his cell phone. Otherwise, the thing will chirp incessantly.

Who's calling? Everyone. Friends, family, teammates - you name it.

"I'm back in my home state now," said Joseph, who played college ball at Oklahoma, "so I know a lot of people down here. But anybody who knows me knows I've gotten a lot worse at answering the phone."

Surely, the reason isn't because he believes he is too important. The humility remains even while his pockets have gotten fatter. While showing his visitors to the garage where his vehicles are parked, he declines to pose for a photo in front of the souped-up 1992 Chevy Caprice he drove in college.

"I don't want it to look like I'm showing off," he said. "That's not me."

A quiet life

He doesn't have to eat like a king every night. Most days, he picks up takeout on the way home from practice. Tonight, a call to Papa John's pizza will have to suffice because he left his wallet at home and had no money during the drive home. The order is always the same: pepperoni and sausage.

His personal life isn't very eventful in the middle of football season. If he goes out at all, it's usually on a Monday night because he doesn't have to be at the practice facility at 7:30 the next morning.

He doesn't see himself walking down the aisle any time soon, either. "Marriage is not something I'm thinking about right now," he said.

He does have family responsibilities, however, with a 2-year-old son, Ali. The boy splits his time between his mother's home in South Florida and Davin's parents. Whenever the Bucs play a home game, his parents drive Ali to Tampa, where he spends the weekend in his downstairs bedroom - just down the hall from Davin's.

Sometimes, father and son take swims together in the pool. Ali loves to "terrorize" the cats by chasing them around the house. Eventually, Davin and Ali likely will fish off the deck overlooking the lake. Most important, Davin hopes to one day instill in Ali the same ideals he learned from his parents.

Davin knows just where those values have taken him: to this place with the spectacular view.

"This is what my hard work has gotten me," he said.

"And it feels good."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com