Throughout the preseason, the Lincoln High School football team didn’t have a true starting quarterback. Three players were in the hunt to be the one to replace two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree Isiah Roberts.
But in the mind of junior Darius Wade, there was only one candidate.
“Once I was told that I could be the starting quarterback, it was my job,” Wade said. “I had to do it. I was going to do everything I could to get the job.”
So in the offseason, Wade gathered some of his teammates and asked if he could throw the football to them on a regular basis.
“I worked out with the receivers to get chemistry with them,” Wade said. “It was a big opportunity for me and I was going to make the most of it.”
Wade knows a little bit about what it takes to be a successful Lincoln signal caller. After all, Wade’s cousin, Lamar McKnight, was an All-Area quarterback during his playing days and has now settled in at NCAA Division I Tennessee State. Wade also watched former Lion standout Ronald Butler handle the quarterback duties, going from wide receiver to quarterback, much like what Wade, a fine pass catcher last year, had to do over the summer.
“When I was in eighth grade, I used to watch Ronald Butler all the time,” Wade said of the former Lion field leader, now playing wide receiver at Utah State. “He became a dual threat. I knew that I could run. I just had to get the passing game down. So I worked all summer on throwing. I found throwing on the run was easier for me than throwing in the pocket. For me, it’s easier.”
But Wade was determined to put his signature on the starting quarterback slot.
“He had the work ethic and the attention to detail,” Lincoln head coach Robert Hampton said. “He also had the curiosity. He studied some of the predecessors and knew what they did. That’s some motivation. When Isiah graduated, Darius made it clear that he thought he could be the guy. I liked that. I felt he had that extra moxie you need to be a quarterback.”
Hampton also liked Wade’s confidence.
“He wanted to put his own stamp on the position,” Hampton said. “He didn’t want to be like his cousin. He wanted to be better than his cousin. He liked to emulate some of the others, but he wanted to be his own guy and take it to the next level.”
Before the Lions faced Livingston last Sunday to open the 2013 season, Wade felt a little nervous, knowing he was indeed going to be the starting quarterback.
“It was my first start and I was excited,” Wade said. “But I felt the nervousness. I waited a long time to get the chance. I didn’t want to mess up.”
Wade said that he had the jitters until one point.
“Once I got hit, my nerves were gone,” Wade said. “After I got hit for the first time, that was it. I was fine.”
Wade was more than fine. He was brilliant.
Wade completed eight of 10 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns while carrying the ball six times for 130 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Lions to a 54-7 victory.
For his debut effort, Wade has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. Wade is the first honoree for the 2013-14 scholastic sports season. The weekly feature will culminate next June with the presentations of the newspaper chain’s Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Wade was somewhat startled with how well he handled the new role.
“I’m kind of surprised how it all came,” Wade said. “It’s a good feeling. I was also surprised by the score. I knew we had a good team, with all the practices and scrimmages we had. But I didn’t expect all of that.”
Hampton cannot rave enough about Wade’s performance.
“If he was a Broadway play, his opening night would have wowed the critics,” Hampton said. “It was a stunning display of speed, intelligence and leadership. At this point, he’s very focused and he’s very dangerous. He’s not just outplaying his relatives and the ones that preceded him, but he’s taking that position to a whole new level.”
Hampton also loves Wade’s personality.
“He’s such a great kid and a joy to coach,” Hampton said. “He’s also very humble. He really has the opportunity to be someone special.”
Incredibly, Wade’s performance doesn’t give him the starting job by himself just yet. He headed to practice after the game, still battling with Tyrik Darby and Jay Harrison for the starting quarterback role when the Lions face a tough Dover team this weekend.
“It’s a daily battle,” Hampton said. “I can’t turn it over to Wade after just one game. I have to see it every game. The other two guys aren’t like liverwurst. They can play. I like what they all bring us. The good thing is that they all like each other and help each other.”
Wade feels that he can handle the responsibilities.
“It definitely gives me a lot of confidence,” Wade said. “I know I can do it. It’s a new position, but I’m learning. I just want to be able to make a name for myself.”
After his performance last week, everyone in Hudson County knows exactly who Darius Wade is. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.