GAINESVILLE — By the end of the night, the kid was looking a little lost. The helmet was off, the jersey was untucked and the dreams of a lifetime were postponed.
This is the beginning he never imagined. The debut he had hoped to avoid. For Robert Marve, this is the reality of the job he has chosen.
The freshman from Tampa began his career as the University of Miami quarterback on Saturday night and discovered the end zone is harder to find when the stadiums get larger.
"Obviously disappointing. It was a tough situation with a whole bunch of people who have never been put in a tough situation," Marve said. "I thought we would put some more points on the board, honestly."
He had gone 21 months without playing a game, survived a scary auto accident and two wrist operations and missed the season opener because of a sin he committed nearly a year ago.
Then he played his first college football game on national television at Florida Field against the No. 5 ranked team in the nation.
And, by the way, that was the easy part.
You see, it is now Marve's mission to make Miami relevant again.
To erase several seasons of mediocrity and ridicule. To return the 'Canes to the polls after a nearly two-year absence. To make Coral Gables a place where the nation's top prep quarterbacks once again gather.
From Jim Kelly to Bernie Kosar to Vinny Testaverde to Steve Walsh to Gino Torretta, the Hurricanes used to produce quarterbacks who collected national titles, Heisman trophies and fat paychecks from NFL teams. And, today, the kid from Tampa is trying to make it all happen again.
If you caught his act Saturday night, you know the possibility exists. There were mistakes, of course. There was offensive coordinator Patrick Nix screaming in Marve's face when the offense lined up in the wrong formation. There was a pass or two — or three or four — thrown in haste.
But there were also moments when Marve flashed the kind of playmaking ability that made him a legend around the halls of Plant High. There were several third- and fourth-down plays when he ran through or around linebackers for first downs.
"Robert did well. No interceptions, no turnovers," coach Randy Shannon said. "That's what we wanted, to take care of the ball and keep the game close."
His final numbers weren't great (10-of-18 for 69 yards), but Marve did not get a lot of help from his teammates. Or his coaches, for that matter.
Miami seemed determined to establish a running game between the tackles, and the plan failed long before the coaches gave up on it. UM running backs had 24 carries for 55 yards, which meant Marve was facing more third and longs than a redshirt freshman quarterback should.
"I felt very comfortable. I don't know how I looked, but I wasn't jittery or anything like that. I felt I knew what I was doing."
Miami is, essentially, starting over. The 'Canes used 18 true freshmen in their season opener, an indication Shannon loves his own recruits or hates Larry Coker's.
Either way, it means Marve's growing pains will be multiplied by others. Miami has bright days ahead, but they are too distant to count on with any sense of regularity.
So, for now, it is best to watch Marve with a sense of anticipation rather than expectation. The talent is there, so you wait for the experience and the poise to catch up.
There was a wonderful scene early in the game. The first pass of Marve's college career was dropped by Leonard Hankerson. One play later, the series ended when Kanye Farquharson dropped another.
Marve took three steps toward the bench before turning around and finding Farquharson for a pat on the helmet. This was the kid consoling the senior, the future absolving the past.
And in that moment, you thought Marve might have a shot. Two minutes into his college career, he already understood his responsibilities are greater than his own glory.
Once upon a time, Testaverde made his starting debut for the Hurricanes against No. 5 Florida in 1985. The 'Canes lost, but it was the start of a historic career at Miami.
Who knows, maybe Saturday night we saw something similar.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com.