Long, strange trip

YSU QB Davis back in starting lineup

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s been a long, strange trip for Ricky Davis … and pretty much every other Youngstown State quarterback on the roster for that matter.

One of the many reasons the Penguins are out of the playoff picture one year after making a run to the FCS Championship game is that YSU (4-5, 2-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) is starting its third quarterback.

That’s Davis, who has been through a little bit of everything since he arrived on campus in 2013. He was a highly-recruited prospect out of Cincinnati Moeller High School — 10 Division I offers — but the 6-foot-3 Davis chose the Penguins, in part because he felt “the people of Youngstown have great pride in their school.”

Davis now understands that feeling.

“Youngstown is a special place, and I loved it immediately,” he said of picking YSU.

Davis’ future at QB looked to be in jeopardy when Hunter Wells came in and started as a true freshman in 2014. Wells started the next two years before Davis eventually won a quarterback competition last season. The dual-threat Davis was playing fairly well seven games into the season when an injury cost him the rest of his junior year.

“I learned throughout the process that sometimes life doesn’t always go as planned,” Davis said, “and you have to continue to work hard and put others before yourself.”

When Davis initialy won the job, Wells fell down the depth chart. Wells was technically the fourth-string QB early last season and was ready to transfer, but injuries to Davis, backup Trent Hosick and third-stringer Nathan Mays put Wells back under center by Week 8.

Wells then led YSU to a 7-2 mark and a trip to the title game. Understanding that Wells was now entrenched as the starter, the speedy Davis decided to make a position change to wide receiver last spring. Three games into this season, he was back taking repetitions at QB because Wells suffered a shoulder injury. When Mays also went down with an injury, Davis was again called upon to be the starting quarterback.

“You’ve got to alter and change (the offense) a little bit, tweak it to who’s under center and what he does best,” YSU coach Bo Pelini said. “That plays a part in it also. It’s been a challenge offensively. When you’ve got three different quarterbacks that you’ve played, three different guys with different strengths, weaknesses, that type of thing, it doesn’t lend to a lot of continuity.”

Davis and the offense didn’t click at first, as he hastily tried to fine-tune his skills and regain timing with the receivers. A 35-0 home loss to Illinois State on Oct. 28 was demoralizing and all but removed YSU from playoff contention, but Davis, now a senior, spoke up after the game and vowed the Penguins would rebound and finish strong.

He wasn’t kidding. Davis had a career day, completing 10-of-12 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns in the Penguins’ 66-24 victory over Indiana State last week. He also led YSU in rushing with 98 yards and two TDs on 14 carries. His 447 total yards were the fourth most in school history, and Davis earned MVFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

“It was a super exciting day,” Davis said. “It’s memorable, that’s for sure.”

But the QB saga isn’t over yet.

YSU has two games left (on the road at Southern Illinois and at home against Missouri State), and with Mays and Wells still injured, the next man up could be former Ursuline quarterback Chris Durkin. His story is just as interesting.

Durkin earned a scholarship to Virginia Tech as a quarterback. A great athlete at 6-4, 235 pounds, he moved to tight end as a sophomore and then transferred to YSU this past spring to play tight end … or so he thought. He played late in last week’s win over Indiana State, and while Wells and Mays are nearing returns, who knows what turn the QB carousel will take next.

Davis, meanwhile, is enjoying his final few games as a Penguin and said he’s taking everything in stride.

“Honestly, I’m grateful for all of it,” he said. “I had dreamed of starting for a Division I university since I was a kid. And hearing, ‘In at quarterback for the Penguins, number 12 Ricky Davis’ come on the loudspeaker at West Virginia (in the 2016 season opener) against a Big 12 school with 70,000 fans watching was probably the greatest moment of my life.

“I actually jogged onto the field and before the first snap, I looked around and said to myself, ‘Wow, here it is, the moment I had been dreaming about since I was throwing the ball in the backyard with my dad.’ “

Sounds like a long, strange trip Davis wouldn’t mind taking again.