“We have some guys that are hungry and have been waiting for their time too so as long as we push each other every day we’ll be just fine.”
REDBLACKS quarterback Dominique Davis
The 2019 off-season of the Ottawa REDBLACKS was memorable for many reasons that made fans cautiously concerned. From losing offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo relatively close to training camp to the departure of the team’s starting left tackle in SirVincent Rogers to Edmonton, along with quarterback Trevor Harris and 60 per cent of Harris’ 2018 targets departing for a variety of destinations.
The task of gathering a group of men and getting them to rally around you as a leader is never easy. It takes time and perseverance through the peaks and valleys of a long regular season.
This task becomes that much more difficult when attempting to make the leap from career CFL backup quarterback to starter and take on that all important role of prominent voice and productive player while replacing the variety of pieces that led Ottawa to multiple Grey Cup births.
For Ottawa in 2019 if there’s one man that can pull off this task it’s Dominique Davis.
He’s been through the fire at multiple moments in his football journey. An adventure that has forced both a professional and personal evolution. His story is not unlike many men that come North to learn about the Canadian game but being able to survive the early days of CFL passing adjustments and be named a starter within the first five years of your career is nothing to dismissively wave a hand at.
“It means a lot, I’ve been waiting for my moment and the time is here. I just want to do the best I can to win games and hoist the Grey Cup,” Davis told me Monday before beginning his first week of practice as a starting quarterback in the CFL.
Davis’ journey took him to Boston College where he waited behind Atlanta Falcons lead man Matt Ryan before attempting to lock down the starters job in 2008 only to see limited action. In June 2009 Davis was suspended on the basis of academic violations and decided to transfer.
To many players this would be the death knell of their career. Following a legendary quarterback at a major division one NCAA football program only to turn towards the junior college route? The success rate of that journey is about as high as you’d expect.
All Davis did was embrace the detour to Fort Scott Community College while leading the Greyhounds to a nearly perfect season.
“It was a great experience for me, very humbling. There are two buildings on the campus. One is where you live and the other is where you study and eat,” Davis reminisced with a hint of humour in his voice while looking back on a far different time Monday.
“In 2009 we were undefeated and lost to Cam Newton in the national championship game on a punt return with 10 seconds left, I still haven’t got over it.”
Fort Scott plays in the Jayhawk Conference, a familiar stomping ground of football development for anyone who enjoys Netflix’s ‘Last Chance U.’ A show built on the premise of watching young men – and sometimes not so young coaches – attempt to find their way out of the two building campuses of rural Kansas and into the football spotlight.
Last year the show focused on new Head Coach of Independence Community College. A tiny school in a tiny town just like Davis experienced at Fort Scott. Davis was watching with great interest when to his limited surprise his old coach became a central figure in the show.
“If you watch that full season the Head Coach of Independence Jason Brown gets kicked out of a game for fighting with another coach. That other coach was my JUCO coach. It’s a crazy world the coaches have to be word and crazy because they’re dealing with kids that are pretty rough around the edges.”
All of a sudden Rick Campbell and his staff embracing Davis’ skill set and anointing him the 2019 starting quarterback to play in front of the raucous Ottawa crowd seems pretty appealing doesn’t it?
After Junior College Davis would go on to become East Carolina’s career leader in passing touchdowns and fifth on the school’s all-time passing yards list. If he can do that through so much turbulence what can he do with a solid foundation understanding what Ottawa needs him to accomplish?
As for being recruited to the junior college ranks, in a strange sideways manner it might have prepared Davis for Elizondo’s exit and the REDBLACKS wild off-season more than he originally realized, “You never know until you get there. The coaches talk good to you calm and cool on the phone but once things get rolling it’s a different world and you just have to keep pushing through it all to find answers.”
Davis was the first of nine quarterbacks that ended up signing in 2019 free agency. He did so well before free agency opened even without the guarantee of Trevor Harris leaving which would make the starting role available.
“I was trusting what the front office was telling me, I trusted my decision and I didn’t feel the need to wait. My initial thought was to go somewhere and compete to be the starter but the situation here was the team saw something in me and wanted to bring me back so I embraced that.”
It’s obvious now that Davis played his cards correctly, even if it wasn’t as smooth a coronation as he might have hoped for after the team signed former BC Lions passer Jonathon Jennings but similar to his early days in football, Davis now looks back at his time behind Matt Nichols in Winnipeg and Harris in Ottawa with appreciation.
“I have a lot of work to do but I was blessed to sit behind the guys I have and learn so much from them. Now I get to take some of what made those guys great ahead of me and implement it into my game.”
Davis currently occupies the rare and unique space of starting CFL quarterback that most people know little to nothing about. So who is the new arm of the REDBLACKS who Rick Campbell has pinned his hopes of reaching back-to-back Grey Cups on?
“I’m a pretty laid back person, I try to keep even keeled. I don’t show no emotion but I like to be the same for everyone in the huddle everyday. I’m a simple guy just like everyone else. I like sitting at home on my downtime, kicking my feet up and relaxing with some great food.”
Davis also says he wants to continue increasing his community presence as he embraces the new challenges associated with being a starter but that isn’t his only goal for 2019.
“I want to try a new Ottawa restaurant every week. That’s a goal of mine. The best place I’ve been to so far is Pili Pili, a Caribbean restaurant in the market. I suggest you go, it’ll change your life.”
The chance to lead a pro football huddle has the potential to change Davis’ life after he signed a one-year deal. Should he play the way he believes he can the price might rise for Davis to stay in Ottawa or another team could come calling in the annual game of February CFL musical chairs known as free agency.
To get there Davis will need more than just himself though. The REDBLACKS have toyed with starting all Canadians across the board at offensive line with General Manager Marcel Desjardins leaning on the exceptional work he’s done focusing on the men up front in the CFL Draft to give Davis stability.
In the receiving room, the REDBLACKS might have lost Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer but they do have arguably the most important national in the league alongside Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris in Brad Sinopoli. Pair the Gee-Gees alumni with an increased workload for Dominique Rhymes and a breakout season for free agency addition from Regina in Caleb Holley and the REDBLACKS might just have something on offence.
An eye-opening journey through Lakeland, Florida high school football to Boston College, the two building campus of Fort Scott, through East Carolina, Winnipeg and a bumpy off-season in Ottawa.
To Dominique Davis, all of it defines his past but none of it affects how he’ll handle his immediate future as the new starting quarterback of the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
“I want to be the same guy everyday. We have some guys that are hungry and have been waiting for their time too so as long as we push each other every day we’ll be just fine.”