GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Davante Adams wears it like a badge of honor. Of course, he has no choice. The bulge on the outside of his upper left arm is there to stay.
“Feel it,” Adams offers.
Sure enough, there’s something unmistakably unnatural under the skin.
“It’s calcium buildup from breaking it,” Adams said.
Adams at first neglects to mention that he didn’t break his arm just once. Or even twice. No, as the Green Bay Packers receiver sits in his locker, he eventually reveals that he broke it three times as a kid. The same arm. In the same spot.
“Twice in the same school year,” he said. “That was in fifth grade. It reconnected and then I re-broke it. Did it again in eighth grade.”
The first time, it happened playing football. The second came on the basketball court. The third time was football again. It’s no wonder his mother, Pamela Brown, was so against her son playing football when it came time for high school. So he did not. Not as a freshman or a sophomore.
“She didn’t really want me to play football from the jump,” Adams said. “That started when I was 9, and I had to really have a lot of people talk her into letting me do it.”
In that regard, perhaps it’s not a surprise that it’s taken Adams until this year, his third NFL season, to morph into the receiver who more than a year ago was dubbed the Packers’ MVP of the offseason by coach Mike McCarthy. Heading into Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Adams already has established career highs for catches (53), yards (663) and touchdowns (six) with six games still to play. He is tied with Jordy Nelson for the team lead in the first two categories and has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing 4-6 season.
When Adams came into the NFL, he had just four years of football experience beyond the middle-school level. He played only two years of high school football in Palo Alto, California – after his mother finally gave in – and just two years at Fresno State, where, with Derek Carr as his quarterback, he caught 223 passes (including a nation-high 131 as a redshirt sophomore).
“I knew about him because he was a basketball player,” Palo Alto High School coach Earl Hansen said. “A really good basketball player.”
Hansen also knew of Adams' mother’s aversion to football.
“I just kept talking to him [about playing football],” Hansen said.
But he never tried to convince Adams’ mom.
“I think he did it more than anything.” Hansen said.
Adams was an instant star both as a receiver and a cornerback. As a senior, he caught 63 passes, including 11 touchdowns, to help Palo Alto to a state title.
Enter Ron Antoine, then the receivers coach at Fresno State. He wasn’t part of the recruiting process, but from the first week of spring practices after Adams redshirted as a freshman, Antoine knew what he had.
“One of the guys that was coming back, Jalen Saunders, had a bunch of yards and a bunch of catches [but] ended up transferring to Oklahoma after spring practice because it was obvious that Davante was going to get a bunch of balls thrown his way,” Antoine said. “Davante just emerged.”
That fall, he caught 102 passes but was hardly a finished product.
“I told him, ‘That was great, but you can be better,’” said Antoine, who now coaches at Texas State. “So we took all of his clips – all of his one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens, team clips and all of his game clips – and put each route back to back and just showed him that was good, but could be better. To his credit, when we had that end-of-the-year meeting and I told him that, he took it and watched every clip and went to work. And he came back with 131 catches.”
Adams, a second-round draft pick in 2014, teased the Packers as a rookie. He put up a 121-yard receiving game against the Patriots but followed it with a one-catch, 6-yard game the next week. A month later, he caught seven passes for 117 yards in a playoff game against the Cowboys but followed it with a one-catch, 7-yard performance the next week in the NFC title game.
His second season was more of the same. He missed three games early in the year because of an ankle injury and then went down with a knee injury in the playoffs. Despite catching 50 passes, it was dubbed a disappointment in part because of a rash of drops and in part because he didn't have another 100-yard game.
Antoine believes he knows why.
“It was a blessing for him to come into college with an All-American quarterback and to go to the NFL with an All-Pro quarterback,” Antoine said. “You talk about a lucky dude. The thing you get with an elite quarterback that you don’t with another guy, is you get a guy that wants the route run correctly.
“I always told him, ‘Those quarterbacks are human, and if you screw that quarterback and you’re not in the right spot when you’re supposed to be there and he throws a pick, you might have to wait 10 balls before you get another one,’” Antoine said. “The coverage may say throw it to him, but the quarterback will be like, ‘No way, he screwed me last time.’”
Rodgers wouldn't have thrown Adams' way 76 times this season if he didn't trust him. Only Nelson, with 94 targets, has seen the ball more from Rodgers this season. Adams already has consecutive games with double-digit receptions this season – combining for a Packers record 25 catches in back-to-back games against Chicago and Atlanta. Two weeks later, he posted a career best with 156 yards in a loss at Tennessee.
“This is who we saw during training camp,” said fellow Packers receiver Randall Cobb. “This is who we saw when Coach McCarthy called him the MVP. This is who we saw. He got hurt last year. He was playing through a lot of pain, multiple injuries, and he never was quite himself.”
Adams remains close to his mother, who spent the Thanksgiving weekend in Green Bay, and admits they now joke about the thrice-broken arm that almost prevented him from returning to the football field.
“Every now and then we’ll talk about that,” Adams said. “But it’s not something that bothers me now.”
Don’t believe him? Go ahead and touch it.