TAMPA — Boston College redshirt freshman quarterback Dominique Davis didn't need anyone to tell him about the weight that was suddenly thrust upon his young shoulders.
When senior starter Chris Crane fractured his right collarbone during the first half at Wake Forest on Nov. 22, a must-win game if the Eagles were to have a chance at their first outright league title and their first Bowl Championship Series berth, the former Lakeland Kathleen star knew it was on him.
He had to play well.
He had to play like a veteran.
"As the backup, you don't expect times like that to pop up on you, but it popped up at one of the most important times of the season," he said. "I had to take this team to a championship. I just had to grow up quick."
He not only led the Eagles on a winning touchdown drive in the waning moments that day against the Demon Deacons, but in his first collegiate start last week, he showed maturity beyond his years in a victory over Maryland to claim the Atlantic Division and a spot in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
What jumps out about him to the Hokies?
"His poise," Virginia Tech defensive end Jason Worilds said. "For him to come in there and start after Chris Crane went down and lead his team to a W is very impressive."
A switch at Lakeland
Davis, who played defensive end and tight end in his final junior varsity season in 2004 (he didn't play football as a sophomore), figured he'd go out for receiver as a junior.
His situation suddenly changed. The coaches realized in the spring that they had "quarterback issues" for the upcoming year, said coach Irving Strickland, then an assistant. Rising junior Antwon Murray, now a cornerback at Boise State, made a bold suggestion.
"Coach. Dominique can throw," Strickland recalled Murray saying. "I said, 'Dominique can't play quarterback.' But Antwon said, 'Coach. I'm telling you, Dominique can throw.' "
From that point on, he was Kathleen's quarterback.
"I went home and told my mother and she just looked at me and laughed for about an hour," he said. "She thought I was joking. My whole family thought I was joking."
"How he ended up playing quarterback (there) is still a mystery to me,'' said his brother Desmond Clark, a former Kathleen High and Wake Forest standout who's now a tight end for the Chicago Bears.
Davis had solid numbers as a junior, 1,659 yards and 11 touchdowns as his team won a district title. As a senior, after he and his teammates came up with the signals for a no-huddle attack, he threw for 2,758 yards and 28 touchdowns with another district title. He was a Class 3A first-team All-State pick.
"The team needed me at quarterback; that's what made me fall in love in with the position," Davis said. "I had to adjust real quick."
Good situation at BC
The 6-foot-4, 198-pound Davis, who also played basketball and was a high jumper, wasn't highly recruited. His choices?
Middle Tennessee State and Boston College.
He liked the Eagles' depth chart. As a freshman, he could watch and learn from senior Matt Ryan, who went on to be named the ACC player of the year and was the No. 3 pick overall of the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan, who has long been known to his teammates as "Matty Ice" for his cool demeanor under fire, had nothing to teach Davis, who's majoring in communications with a minor in sociology, in that regard.
"He always has just one look on his face," Strickland said. "Dominique would smile every now and then, but during a game, he has that look on his face that nothing really bothers him.''
Davis showed that at Wake Forest. With the Eagles down 21-16 and 4:57 left, Davis, who had been a bit shaky, methodically marched the team 70 yards in nine plays for the winning score.
"Off the field, he's a very laid-back guy," receiver Brandon Robinson said. "When we're at practice or in games, he doesn't get rattled. He's really calm and confident and takes control."
Against Maryland, he showed that again. Davis was 12 of 24 for 134 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 28-21 win that set up a rematch of last year's ACC title game.
"That tells you a lot about the kid," Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. "He didn't flinch. He just went out and played football and had fun out there."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.