It took Oliver Davis II one workout to see that Kindle Vildor had NFL talent.
Davis — a private defensive backs coach based in the Atlanta area and the CEO at Sweet Feet Sports Performance LLC — worked with Vildor for the first time during the summer before his junior season at Georgia Southern.
“I noticed as we were going through the workout that day that he was just really, really focused,” Davis said. “For a young kid at the age he was, for him to be that locked in at a workout, I knew then that he was going to be special. It was just easy to see it.”
Just like Davis, the Bears saw something special in Vildor too and went on to select the cornerback with the 163rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
For Davis, Vildor was his first official client.
Vildor found out about Davis from his videos of him training his younger cousin, Jaden Daniels. After working with Davis, Daniels went on to earn first-team All-Region at Westlake High School during his senior season and earned a scholarship to play college football at Coastal Carolina.
To help Vildor take the next step in his game, Davis talked to him about the importance of watching film.
Davis, who became a three-year starter at Carson-Newman after transferring from Georgia Southern, looked up to cornerbacks like Deion Sanders and Champ Bailey and immediately noticed the time and commitment they each put in the film room.
“Those guys were exceptional athletes, but one thing that they all had in common was their preparation,” Davis said. “Kindle, he prepared for the game, but I think I put more emphasis on it and elaborated on why. I just explained to him like ‘bro if you really want to dominate, there is no way that you can do that without studying’ … I think I just emphasized the importance of actually really diving in and being a junkie for the film.
“If you become that, your game is going to go up immediately. You build confidence when you watch film. You build mental reps when you watch film.”
The two didn’t just watch tape on current and former NFL cornerbacks. Sometimes Vildor would send Davis reps on a receiver that he was going to cover that week, and Davis would provide Vildor with his initial thoughts on how to approach the matchup and then do his own research by watching YouTube on the opposition’s No. 1 wide receiver.
A lot of their film sessions, though, were devoted to watching Vildor’s tape. Throughout the season, almost on a daily basis, Vildor sent Davis clips from his practices and wanted to get his feedback on how he could’ve approached a certain rep or route concept differently.
After reviewing the clip, Davis would either FaceTime Vildor or send him a text on how to make the proper adjustments for the next time he went to practice.
Vildor’s commitment to constantly strive to get better on the football field and in the film room reminded Davis a little of himself.
“I was always the type of player that was always really technical,” Davis said. “Obviously I had athletic ability, but I realized early on that if you really focus on the technical side and do things the correct way, it’s going to put you in a position to make plays. And I noticed that he was like the same way.
“You will notice if you go back to his story at Georgia Southern, the man didn’t give up much of anything, didn’t get beat often … Just the discipline side of it made me feel like this dude is kind of like how I was.”
All the work the two did that summer helped Vildor to have a breakout junior season.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Vildor made 42 tackles, led the Eagles with four interceptions and 11 passes defended and was named the Sun Belt Player of the Year by Pro Football Focus.
Vildor made a name for himself three weeks into the 2018 season, when Georgia Southern played Clemson, who eventually went on to win the National Championship later that year. In that game Vildor didn’t allow a completion, and he picked off quarterback Kelly Bryant on the Tigers’ first offensive possession in the first quarter.
Despite facing a juggernaut of a team like Clemson, Vildor didn’t flinch.
He was ready for the matchup, and credit can be given to Davis and how he constantly challenged Vildor and the other defensive backs in each workout.
“Just training with me alone you got to be mentally tough …,” Davis said. “If you come out there and train with me and you can’t catch, it’s going to show. If your footwork isn’t good, it’s going to show. If you’re a player that is not sharp on the IQ side, it’s going to show. I test them. I put them in situations where they have to make a football play, and if you aren’t polished or if you haven’t been practicing, it’s going to show.”
— Oliver Davis II (@I_Am_OD3) June 20, 2020
Davis also lives by a philosophy that he believes rubs off on each of the players, which is to not look too far down the road but instead to focus on “just getting one percent better today.” The “1%” is written on every single one of the workout posts that are on Davis’ Instagram and Twitter.
Vildor embraced that philosophy from the beginning, and he went on to prove throughout the week at the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he intercepted a pass in the second quarter of the game, that he could compete with the top talent in the nation.
With the way Vildor played the last two seasons and how he performed at the NFL Scouting Combine and at his pro day, Davis believed that his client was worthy of being a second-round draft pick. But he also knew that some teams may overlook Vildor because they would prefer to take a cornerback from one of the Power Five conferences.
Davis was there with Vildor’s family, waiting for the phone call that would change his life forever. But it didn’t come on Day 2 of the draft, and Davis could tell that Vildor was getting frustrated.
When he saw that Vildor wasn’t talking as much, Davis went up to Vildor and simply reminded him that he was going to get drafted and to just embrace the moment.
There was also one other thing that Davis wanted to do while they waited for him to be drafted. Davis got two large pieces of paper and the two wrote down the 20 cornerbacks that were drafted ahead of him.
“I want you to frame this picture, frame this piece of paper, and we are going to come back after the rookie contract and see where all these guys are at compared to you,” Davis said. “We turned it from being a frustrating situation to a motivational one.”
After Vildor received the phone call from Bears coach Matt Nagy, he yelled out “The Bears” and gradually made his way to his mother while everyone else recorded and celebrated the moment. Vildor hugged his mother and the two started to cry.
“It was a special moment just because I know this kid and remembered when he wasn’t even starting at Georgia Southern yet,” Davis said. “So I saw the whole transformation from this random kid to becoming a draft pick.”
Seeing Vildor get drafted was also a rewarding experience for Davis because it validated all the hard work, time and effort that he has put into becoming an established and highly regarded defensive backs coach.
Vildor’s growth and development over the years also showed some of Davis’ younger clients an example of how much they can achieve if they continue to put in the work themselves.
“All the guys after him [Vildor], they just look at him,” Davis said. “He is like the big brother to everybody. They are like ‘if Kindle is training with this guy and getting all these accolades and he looks that sharp and smooth, it’s got to work.’ He led the way the right way and it worked out.”
Just as Vildor is seen as an older brother to some of the younger, aspiring cornerbacks, Davis sees himself in the same role for Vildor. The two will hangout, play some Playstation and occasionally grab lunch when they are both in town.
Davis also just tries to be there for Vildor “whether it’s physically or mentally or [when] he just has questions about anything.” All of the off-the-field interactions have helped Davis and Vildor to establish even better chemistry with each other.
That’s why when Davis puts Vildor through his rigorous workouts he knows that he is going to get the same kind of effort out of him every single time. It isn’t just Davis who has noticed this about Vildor either. Some of the veteran cornerbacks that Davis has worked with like Kenny Moore, A.J. Bouye and Tre Herndon all have told Davis that “coaches are going to love him.”
Another veteran cornerback who has recognized the player Vildor has become, especially since the two will likely be competing against one another when training camp starts, is Bears nickelback Buster Skrine, who grew up with Davis and competed against him when they were in high school and in college.
“[Skrine] knows it’s going to be tough because he knows me,” Davis said. “We grew up together, so he knows my standards. It will be good for them both because Buster is very competitive, and Buster is a professional.”
Bears general manager Ryan Pace told reporters during a conference call back in April that the 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback is capable of playing as the nickel or on the outside.
Davis has been training Vildor at the nickel position the entire offseason because he is already used to playing on the outside. Only time will tell where Vildor ends up, but regardless, Davis is confident Vildor will have success in the league.
“The level of skill that he has, the IQ that he has, the intelligence of the game and just him being a competitor and a tough player gives me my reasoning and feeling that Kindle is going to be an NFL player for a long time,” Davis said. “Guys that are disciplined, guys that try and perfect their craft, guys that are smart, guys that are coachable, it really doesn’t matter where you put them. They are going to rise to the top because they are practicing good habits, and that is just what kind of guy he is.”
And Davis knew all of that about Vildor since Day 1.