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'Big D' crossed town line to thrive

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published January 23. 2013 4:00AM

Waterford

It is the back nine of senior year now and the scorecard for David Willox, the kid they call "Big D" around the halls of Waterford High, reads this way:

Constant, 50,000 watt smile.

Championship ring from basketball.

Full college scholarship for football waiting for him.

So how do you think he's doing so far?

This is just how you draw up a high school career, really.

Except that Willox, whose blood surely pumps Lancer blue through his veins, is a New London kid. Still lives in the 06320. Which means that he, an aspiring young athlete, surrounded by all the guys with all the stories and all the rings, willingly left the holy city for school in the suburbs four years ago.

Certain outposts throughout New London might regard that as an act of treason.

Or at least that Willox might be, you know, missing a few buttons on the remote.

But then it was Tuesday at the Waterford Fieldhouse and there was Willox beaming again, not long after the Lancers edged blood rival East Lyme and moved to 8-4 in this post state championship season. David Willox, the captain, is very proud of his team and his school.

"I didn't want to be another guy that came out of New London," Willox was saying. "I wanted to come out of Waterford and be a different person. I see stuff old school. Like those old 1970s cars. You never see a brother in a Waterford varsity jacket. I see them in New London wearing theirs all the time. I wanted to stick out."

Willox's use of the word "brother" just revealed a detail about himself: He is black. At a mostly white school. It has not always been easy to walk the halls. Willox calls it "the Davonte look," alluding to former Waterford great Davonte Valentine, a fellow African American who went from getting quizzical looks in the hallways to graduating as one of its most popular students ever.

"Freshman year was rough," Willox said. "I was a big kid for a freshman. I remember riding my bike to school one day and a weightlifter type guy who was older almost hit me with his car. I was like, 'dude, what are you doing?'"

"I went to lunch later that day and I see him and about 20 of his friends. 'Are you the kid on the bike?' I said, 'Yeah.' They said, 'We'll see you after class.' Mr. Ryan (assistant principal Gene Ryan) had to step in."

Then Willox flashed the 50,000-watt special again and said, "But since sophomore year, I've pretty much run the school."

Willox and his parents went through all the proper channels four years ago with school administration to ensure eligibility under Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference guidelines. His athletic career: three-year varsity starter in football, earning the scholarship to Division II American International College. Basketball: captain and starting center this year after last season's ride of lifetime, all the way to the state title.

Willox, however, earned the nickname "Big D" honestly. He was once 315 pounds. He has lost considerable fat and added muscle in its place.

"I worked out at G's Fitness (and Nutrition in Waterford) all summer. I woke up at 3 a.m. and ran there," he said. "I was there all day. By the time I left, all I could do was sleep. I was that tired."

In the middle of Tuesday's game, junior guard Donny Craig - he's going to be a good one - drove to the basket, scored and got fouled. One voice was heard above all the others in the gym. It belonged to the captain.

"He's so much fun to coach. He doesn't care about points or attention. Just the team. He's a rarity," Waterford coach Greg Gwudz said. "Last year, he hardly played but was the loudest guy on the bench. He's so positive. He doesn't let us have bad practices. He's up and he's after it, doing the dirty work."

It's the least he can do for the school he loves.

"You have to be here to know what it's like," Willox said. "I learned manners here. I learned how to speak to different kinds of people. And I also got a ring. A ring and a watch. Every time I go out with Jordan (teammate Jordan Hamler), we rock them together."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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