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Darrelle Revis once enjoyed dribbling around picks on the basketball court as much as picking off quarterbacks on the football field.
He was an exceptional athlete with the type of eye-popping skills that made everyone in the town of Aliquippa, Pa., daydream about what the future held for the speedy, skinny kid from down the block.
"I was always just a guy running outside with a football or a basketball in my hands," the New York Jets cornerback recalled with a big smile. "Older people and other kids around the neighborhood always used to say that I was going to be something one day."
And, boy, were they right.
Revis became a slam-dunk, first-round NFL draft pick, taken by the Jets with the 14th overall selection in 2007. In just two-plus seasons, he already has a Pro Bowl trip under his belt and a reputation for being one of the game's best at his position. He's also become a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate by routinely shutting down and frustrating elite wide receivers, including Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Steve Smith.
"It's enjoyable," said Revis, who has five interceptions. "A lot of people might not think it is because you're on an island by yourself. I look at it as, if you look inside the game, it's two against one. It's like a Brady and Moss versus a Darrelle Revis, so it's things like that where you're going against two guys. You've got to make sure you study both guys and be prepared."
Some of his teammates joke about opposing receivers being stranded on Revis Island, where Revis looms as their shadow and the catches are few and far between.
"Teams have been firing at me to see if I'm going to live up to what they say I'm supposed to be," Revis said. "I'm taking the challenge on."
Jets coach Rex Ryan calls Revis the best cornerback in the league, hands down, and it's difficult to argue with him.
In two games against New England, Moss had a total of nine catches for 58 yards and a touchdown with Revis draped all over him. Owens fared worse, catching six passes for 44 yards and no scores in two games for Buffalo. As for Smith, he barely got into the final stats for Carolina, catching one pass for 5 yards two weeks ago.
"He can pretty much deal with anybody that you match him up against," said Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, whose team hosts the Jets on Sunday. "I'm sure he'll lose some battles, but he'll win more than he loses. He has no fear."
Revis is the rare athlete who trades flashiness for humility, thanks in large part to his uncle, former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sean Gilbert.
"We talk on what we call '100,' which means you're up front with everything," Gilbert said. "I told Darrelle, 'Some say you're the best and some say you're one of the best. Well, I say that you're OK.' He's just scratching the surface."
It's that never-satisfied approach that helped turned Revis into a success, beginning at Aliquippa High School, where he was a two-sport star and led the basketball team to nationals at Disney World as the starting point guard his junior year. He caught the eye of college coaches, with schools such as Akron and Toledo showing early interest.
"I was waiting for a Duke or something like that," he said with a laugh, "but that didn't roll over."
During his senior year, Revis decided he wanted to play both sports in college and narrowed his choices to three schools: Akron, Kansas and Pittsburgh. Revis spoke to Kansas coach Bill Self about being a walk-on for the basketball team and flirted with that idea before talking to Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon and settling on the school close to home.
"We recruited Darrelle with the intent on him playing basketball at Pitt," Dixon said. "He did practice with us for two weeks following the conclusion of his freshman football season, but it became clear that he would be playing on Sundays."
Revis' body told him both sports were too much, even though Gilbert contends Revis could play in the NBA if he trained properly.
"He was a quick, athletic, talented guard," Dixon said. "It was evident that he had the talent, athleticism and competitiveness to compete on the basketball court. He could have been a very good basketball player."
With his sole focus on football, Revis hit the gym and added 15 pounds of muscle to his previously 180-pound frame.
"That just helped with football because I probably would've been skinny and scrawny playing hoops still," Revis said.
Instead, he developed into one of the best football players in the country and left Pitt after his junior year. Former coach Eric Mangini labeled Revis a potential shutdown cornerback after the draft, and Revis has lived up to the hype.
He's an All-Pro-caliber cornerback who texts regularly with Deion Sanders, speaks frequently with Ty Law and brainstorms with Jets defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman, a former Pro Bowler. Law also is from Aliquippa, as were Mike Ditka and Pete Maravich.
"I'm like a sponge, just trying to absorb everything," Revis said. "In this game, you have to be hungry. You can't get complacent."
And, it's easy for Revis not to, especially when he's got Gilbert calling him before and after games. Gilbert got on him after the Jets' win over the Bills last week because Revis had an interception, but dropped two others.
"You can be drawn into an illusion that you're either better than you think you are, or you're not as good as you want to be," Gilbert said. "You have to really scrutinize yourself. You have to watch film and be honest with yourself. From there, it doesn't matter what anybody says. The world could love you and say that you're the best, but you have to be honest."
The mirror tells Revis that he's one of the best players in the NFL at his position. It also tells him that there's much more work to be done.
"You can't look at accolades or what the paper's saying about you because you'll get caught up in that glitz and glamour," he said. "I think I try to stay away from things like that and know there's really always room for improvement. I just want to be the best corner I can be."