Ryan Davis heard the chatter.
Since the day he decided to transfer from Northeast back to Lakewood, his zoned school, Davis knew what he was getting into. The Spartans had skill players all over the field and plenty of size on the offensive and defensive lines.
What Lakewood didn’t have after the graduation of Tracy Johnson was a bona fide No. 1 quarterback.
He had led Northeast to the playoffs as a sophomore. He is elusive, with a strong arm, and had athletes galore to catch his passes. Look out, Class 5A, everyone else is playing for second.
Then the season started.
Lakewood stumbled in a 15-13 opening loss to Countryside. Davis was inconsistent and tentative. Perhaps the Spartans, and Davis, were aiming too high.
“We had so many high expectations,” Davis said. “With all the transfers everyone thought we’d be an easy state contender. We weren’t supposed to lose any games and I just lost the game. I didn’t put enough points on the board.
“It took some time for me to get my head up.”
It also took some time to adjust to Lakewood. He had only two weeks of preseason workouts before the Countryside game. He didn’t know all the plays or even all the players. And it didn’t help that the preseason game at Ponte Vedra the week before was canceled.
“He gets frustrated sometimes,” senior receiver Jocqui Ellison said. “He’ll make a bad play and put his head down. He got really down after that Countryside game. He blamed the whole game on himself. That’s too much pressure. I told him you can’t do that.”
Things didn’t get much better in the following weeks. Ellison stepped in at quarterback at times so Davis could observe.
“Joc knows the offense so I could see how he runs it,” Davis said. “When they put me back it was time to step up and go.”
After winning three straight, Lakewood lost 20-6 to Largo. Davis sustained an ankle injury and missed the next week’s game against Boca Ciega. When he returned against Dunedin a week later, the Spartans started to roll.
Aside from a 23-6 loss at Jacksonville Raines, the Spartans have won six of seven. In three playoff games, Lakewood has outscored opponents 132-49.
Davis was at his best last week in a 27-21 win at South Sumter. He threw two touchdown passes, ran for two more and was responsible for 334 of his team’s 346 total yards.
He said he kept telling himself things would get better.
“I put too much pressure on myself,” Davis said. “I was so hard on myself and really, I didn’t even know the offense yet. I just had to realize I just got here. I’m a human being like everybody else. I’m trying to grasp everything all at once. The time will come and everything will fall into place.”
While Davis was rusty at the beginning of the season, coach Cory Moore said the difference has been Davis realizing it’s not all about him.
“I think what are you seeing is a player growing into the system,” Moore said. “He knows where guys are supposed to be. He can just play football. There’s no pressure. He doesn’t have to be the man out there. We’ve got 50 men out there.”
The next test comes Friday at Green Cove Springs Clay in the Class 5A state semifinal. The Spartans have already advanced two rounds farther than any team in school history.
Davis is sure to have a big role. He has thrown for 1,629 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has come a long way since that steamy night in August against Countryside, but it’s never far from his mind.
“I’m just trying to redeem myself,” Davis said. “I’m trying to make up for everything that happened earlier.”