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Work disrupts game-night ritual

By CHIP SCOGGINS, Star Tribune, 08/31/11, 11:30PM CDT


Thursday night game means Vikings assistants Jeff Davidson and Karl Dunbar will miss sons kick off their prep seasons

Eden Prairie offensive lineman Nick Davidson

Jeff Davidson and Karl Dunbar will be on the Vikings sideline Thursday night for the final preseason game. Davidson coaches the team's offensive line. Dunbar oversees the defensive line.

If they had their druthers, the two assistants would be at a different game. Tonight, in smaller venues away from the bright lights of an NFL stadium, their sons begin their prep football seasons -- Nick Davidson at Eden Prairie and Karmichael Dunbar at Prior Lake.

It might be the only time all season that their fathers are not in the stands -- actually, Dunbar prefers to watch from the sidelines -- but their job requires them to be at the Metrodome at the same time.

"That's the way it goes," Jeff Davidson said. "He knows the only way I'll miss a game is if I have a game."

NFL coaches are notorious for spending long hours studying film and crafting game plans, sometimes going days without seeing sunlight while holed up in their offices. But by Friday afternoon the heavy lifting is done for Vikings coaches, which means Davidson and Dunbar get to watch football and cheer their sons as dads and fans, not coaches.

"It's funny because I never really wanted to coach him when he was growing up," Karl Dunbar said. "I was always a spectator."

It's not easy to flip that switch, though. They are coaches, after all. More than an occupation, it's a way of life.

Dunbar helps out the Prior Lake coaches in the spring and summer if asked. He also is the host of a three-day camp for linemen.

The fathers give their sons individual instruction at times. They'll watch film together, work on technique, maybe study an opponent. But for the most part they'd rather not interfere beyond that. Neither considers their father's expertise as anything other than a blessing.

"I think a lot of people think that because my dad is a coach there's a lot of knowledge that comes from growing up around football," Nick said. "But other than that, I don't feel any pressure."

The coaches share some commonalities in their background. Both Davidson (Ohio State) and Dunbar (LSU) played for powerhouse college football programs. Both were selected in the 1990 draft -- Davidson in the fifth round, Dunbar in the eighth. Both played a handful of NFL seasons before moving into coaching.

Now both have sons who are high school seniors expected to continue their football careers beyond this season. Fittingly, Nick is an offensive lineman, Karmichael a defensive tackle.

Nick is the new kid on the block at Eden Prairie. He moved to the Twin Cities after his father joined Leslie Frazier's staff this past winter following a four-year stint as Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator.

Coaches understand a nomadic lifestyle is part and parcel of the job. Doesn't make it easy, though -- especially when a high school senior has to uproot and move.

"I still feel bad for doing it, but I think he's made a tough situation better," Jeff said. "A lot of the kids there have tried to make him feel comfortable, be part of the team."

Karmichael literally has grown up around the Vikings. His father is entering his sixth season as an assistant. Karmichael accompanies the team to training camp every summer and helps move equipment during practice. He even took part in a mixed martial arts training session with Jared Allen a few summers ago.

"I try and learn as much as I can from those guys," he said.

The two players face important decisions on the horizon. Nick, a blue-chip left tackle, has scholarship offers from more than 20 Division I schools, including Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech and the Gophers.

He wants to keep an open mind in his recruitment, but it's hard to ignore one tidbit: His father and grandfather were both captains at Ohio State. Nick was raised on Buckeyes football; it's in his DNA. But he hopes to maintain an unbiased approach in his decision-making process.

Karmichael has an offer from Arkansas State and is drawing interest from other schools. Both players say they want to focus on their senior season and not worry about what lies ahead in recruiting. They won't need to look very far for guidance on either front.

"I can be a fan on Friday night," Jeff Davidson said. "I enjoy going and watching him play high school football."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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