It was second-and-10 on Boston College’s own 25-yard line. The Eagles trailed 14-0 on a warm Friday night against Florida State in an early September game. For a quarterback, it was a dream situation: the ball in your hands and a chance to make a heroic comeback on primetime ESPN.
The stage was set for Darius Wade to burst onto the scene after studying behind Tyler Murphy his entire first year at BC. When Wade took the snap on that second-and-10, the Seminoles only rushed four players; Wade should have had plenty of time. He didn’t.
“I had it stripped away so fast,” Wade said, looking back on that play.
The play ended in a seven-yard sack, but for the then redshirt freshman, it ended with crutches. Wade's left ankle was shattered. The break would result in him missing all of the 2015 season—a season that was supposed to be his own.
“That was a situation where we went into the season and I had a chance. I started three games; we had Maine and then we had Howard. Then we had Florida State, and that was my first taste of real college football,” said Wade, the frustration in his voice still clear after two years with the injury.
For Wade, the agony didn’t end there. He was forced to stand by and watch as Boston College finished a winless year in the ACC, the worst record the program has seen since going 0-7 in 1911, over a century ago. The worst part of all is that Wade knew that was supposed to be his team.
“With the way that season ended, it was hard. All year I felt like I should be helping the team, but I couldn’t because I was hurt.”
Redemption for Wade was put on hold for an extra year. Despite being the starter at the beginning of 2015, he was forced to sit behind a graduate transfer for the second time in his career as Patrick Towles took over signal-calling duties for the Eagles this past fall.
In his third year, watching from the sidelines had become the new normal for Wade, but this was not always the case. The former Delaware Gatorade Player of the Year, Wade was the starting quarterback in year one at Middletown High School as he took them to four consecutive state title appearances, winning two. Along the way, Wade set an impressive mark of 45 consecutive starts for Middletown. In just three years at BC, Wade has sat more seasons than he did games in high school.
Being kept off the field may have rattled the 16-year-old kid who was dominating Delaware high school football, but an older and wiser Wade has made the most of his unfortunate luck.
“The main [change] is just maturity. I’ve had the chance to sit behind Tyler Murphy and Pat Towles, two fifth-year guys, who have been through a lot, both coming from the SEC, which is the toughest conference,” Wade said with a smile. “I had the chance to learn from both their experiences and their mistakes. It let me take a step back and apply things to my game so I can be better.”
Seeming to form a pattern, Wade is now entering a new season after another year sitting behind a grad student, and the team is all his. Despite the presence of highly-touted redshirt freshman Anthony Brown, Wade enters spring camp taking the first-string snaps. And, even more importantly than having premium practice reps, Wade has the full support of his head coach.
“Darius comes into this spring as the starter. He’s taking those starting reps,” head coach Steve Addazio has said of Wade. “He’s got total command of that team out there right now. Total command.”
Coach Addazio pointed out that there were more completed passes in day one of practice than he had ever previously seen.
After a tumultuous first three years at BC, it would be easy to think that Wade would relish the notion of having some job security and a handle on what is to come in the impending season, but instead it's quite the opposite; he won’t disregard Brown’s presence nor the value of competition entering a new year.
“Everyone says that competition brings out the best out of you, and it’s true. If you have no one pushing you, you become content and complacent. You don’t grow. You don’t get any better,” Wade said. “It not only helps me, it helps the entire team. It gives everyone that competitive nature. Everyone pushes themselves because they have to get better.”
Complacency isn’t something that Wade seems to struggle with. Addazio and his offensive staff, led by offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, have instituted a more spread out and faster offense in years past, briefly shown in last year’s Quick Lane Bowl victory. When asked if he and Loeffler have been communicating about the changes in the offense, Wade’s answer was quick.
“Constantly,” he deadpanned. Wade said he’s working to “learn ‘the why-s'—not just to know the concept and know the play but to know why this concept works versus certain things so we can become overall better and smarter.”
Excitement radiates through Wade’s face when he talks about the 2017 season, which is unsurprising since it's been 18 months since he was at the helm of a football team. Ask him about his teammates and he couldn’t say enough about how much his group has truly grown together—about how great his returning receiving group is with guys like Michael Walker, Charlie Callinan, and Jeff Smith. Or about how dedicated he and his teammates are to the fundamentals, working on the little details of their footwork during the off-season so they can come into camp ready to go full speed.
His enthusiasm for this team and this season is infectious, but it’s still all driven by that second down nearly two years ago.
“That is definitely big motivation for me,” Wade said, as excitement shifted to determination. “I know I want to be back out there, and I should be back out there. It motivates me to make sure I stay on the field and don’t come off.”
Wade makes it clear that he isn’t going to let another season be taken away from him. He’s bigger and stronger than he was in 2015. He's built to sustain the increased contact that comes with being a dual-threat quarterback, a label he still proudly maintains.
Both mental and physical strides have the rising redshirt junior primed to breakout in a big way. With the personal misfortune he has dealt with since arriving at BC, it would be easy for Wade to enter the season with simple personal goals. Throwing 15 touchdowns, passing for 2,000 yards—even attempting 300 passes, like most other quarterbacks—but none of that matters to Wade.
Wade's personal goals: “To win. As much as possible.”
On October 27, Boston College will once again host Florida State. And again, it will be on a Friday night in primetime as the nation watches. But this time Darius Wade will be looking to write a different ending.