Davis takes center stage for East Carolina

East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis knew what would await him if he showed his face on campus that Tuesday morning.

Sure, the Hail Mary to beat Tulsa was the best experience of his life. But Davis needed to focus on the next game, to put it behind him, not let it turn into a distraction.

So he took shortcuts to his classes after the thrilling 51-49 win to open the season, hoping to avoid the craziness he was sure would follow. He succeeded there, in the same way he has succeeded on the field in the Pirates’ 2-0 start.

Davis, it seems, is pretty elusive.

Perhaps we should have all expected that from the one-time starter at Boston College. But time and anonymity has a way of making us all forget. Davis is quickly making us all remember.

He has been the story of the young season in Greenville, N.C., so far. Many thought this season would be a rebuilding one, following the loss of coach Skip Holtz and 14 starters, including veteran quarterback Patrick Pinkney.

How quickly a Hail Mary can change perceptions.

“We just do what we have to do to prove people wrong and just win games,” Davis said.

A big one looms Saturday against what should be a supremely motivated Virginia Tech team eager for a win after an embarrassing loss to James Madison last weekend. For his part, Davis said the team has not thought about that intangible factor playing a role in the game.

“We’re not worried at all,” Davis said. “We’re going to go into Blacksburg and do what we have to do. We’re focused on us right now.”

The Virginia Tech game begins a key three-game stretch for the Pirates. Following an off week, they travel to play at North Carolina and then at Conference USA rival Southern Miss. While the Pirates are going to need to show some defensive improvement, Davis has been the unquestioned star.

But he has only been with the team for a few short months. Davis began his college career in Boston, and became the starter after an injury knocked starter Chris Crane out for the season. He helped the Eagles get into the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech.

Though Boston College lost that game and its bowl game, Davis thought he was on his way to becoming the full-time starter. But soon there was a coaching change. Then Davis got into academic trouble and was suspended in the summer of 2009. He transferred to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas for a season, then committed to Holtz because he saw an opportunity to start right away.

But soon there was a coaching change -- Holtz left for USF. Davis got nervous.

After Ruffin McNeill was hired, his first order of business was to re-recruit Davis. He and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley arrived at the Davis home in Lakeland, Fla., to make their pitch. McNeill laid it all out there.

“I told him about the demands I have on our players,” he recalled. “I want them to act professional and act championship-like, and Dominique was ready to do that and more.”

“I was being patient,” Davis said. “When they brought in Ruffin McNeill, he came the day after he was hired to talk to me and my family. That made me more comfortable. He was just like 'we’re going to run this business as a family.' That opened our eyes. My family wanted me to be with him.”

Davis reaffirmed his commitment, but missed the start of the academic semester, preventing him from participating in spring drills. Davis paid his own way to Greenville and was there to watch all 15 spring practices so he could begin to learn the spread offense McNeill and his staff were installing.

McNeill maintained an open competition for the quarterback job throughout the fall between Davis, Brad Wornick and Rio Johnson. Everyone found out his choice when East Carolina kicked off the season against Tulsa.

It seems like an easy one after watching what happened next. In what turned out to be an offensive shootout, Davis matched Tulsa veteran quarterback G.J. Kinne throw for throw, going 27-of-46 for 383 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. He also added a touchdown on the ground.

But the most important play, of course, was the 33-yard prayer to Justin Jones with no time left to win the game.

“He was very poised, with a new offense, new coaching staff, new football team, he made some tough throws there,” McNeill said. “To make the play on the last toss, to make that play was very special by Dominique.”

Davis kept it up last week against Memphis, going 27-of-38 for 244 yards with three touchdowns in a 49-27 win. He added two more on the ground.

Now the big test comes. Davis has proved he is ready.