Who is Darius Wade?
First, he was the southpaw savior in charge of leading Boston College football during a rebuilding year last season. A month later, he was merely a spectator, forced to watch his struggling team from the sidelines after a broken ankle against Florida State kept him out for the season. Then, Wade was relegated to backup quarterback duties following Patrick Towles’s transfer during the offseason.
On Saturday, he is likely to step in as the starter when the Eagles (3-4, 0-4 Atlantic Coast) fly to Raleigh, N.C., to take on a North Carolina State (4-3, 1-2) squad fresh off back-to-back matchups with Clemson and Louisville. Towles, who sat out practice on Tuesday but is officially listed as day-to-day, is doubtful to play with a pulled hamstring suffered in last weekend’s loss to Syracuse.
“I’ve been through both phases, being the backup and being the starter,” said Wade, who received a redshirt status because of his season-ending injury last year. “It’s tough because you have to be ready at any moment. So it’s hard not getting all the first-team reps but still having to be ready to be with the first team at any given moment. It’s a mental game, trying to exude some leadership while you’re not necessarily ‘the guy.’”
Head coach Steve Addazio is also playing a mental game by not naming his starter to throw off the Wolfpack’s preparation. There’s a chance that a hobbled Towles could still take the field on Saturday, but he would probably be reduced to a pocket passer full-time, rather than the scrambling role he has undertaken thus far. Unless the Kentucky transfer can make an impact with his legs, as well, then Wade becomes the clear No. 1 option against NC State and its 19th-ranked defensive unit.
But if BC is to pick up its first conference win in about 700 days, Wade must be the dual-threat quarterback of the future that Addazio thought he was getting when the 2013 Delaware Gatorade Player of the Year committed to play at BC three years ago.
Of course, it’s hard to gauge exactly how much he has progressed in his time here under Addazio. Wade has seen limited playing time in nine total games as an Eagle, three in each year he has been on the team. This season, Wade’s action has typically come at the tail end of blowouts, save for the late-game fill-in for Towles in the most recent 28-20 loss to the Orange.
Wade completed three passes for 19 yards in the fourth quarter as BC tried to piece together a game-tying drive in the waning minutes. Although he looked solid—albeit timid—both in and out of the pocket, Wade also took a huge sack that essentially erased any hopes of a touchdown. Against Clemson, he tossed a pick-six on his lone pass of the night. As unfair as it is to expect Wade to transition back into the starting role without a little rust, that’s exactly what the expectations will be because of his history.
“Every week, I go into it like I have an opportunity to play,” Wade said. “I always have to be ready because football is just like that—you never know what can happen at any moment. This week, it’s just a little more apparent that this could be my week. So I just gotta make sure I step up and I’m ready for the challenge.”
Though Wade does not have a proven rapport with wide receivers Jeff Smith and Charlie Callinan, he certainly does with tight end Tommy Sweeney. In February’s spring scrimmage, Wade connected with Sweeney for 57 yards on four catches. Look for Sweeney to be a frequent target at Carter-Finley Stadium, especially against a Wolfpack defense which has stunted rushing attacks all year.
To combat NC State’s lethal front-seven, the Eagles might also rely on end-arounds with Smith and play-action passes that allow Wade to show off his athleticism rolling out of the pocket. But in order for play-action schemes to be effective, Addazio will first need to establish a respectable rushing attack. Despite the recent emergence of Davon Jones, who has added explosiveness to the backfield, BC’s running game ranks among the worst in the Power Five.
Another storyline to watch for is how much Addazio utilizes Wade in the ground game. As enticing as a Wade-Jones read-option package might appear, it is important to remember who is behind Wade if he goes down again with an injury—which increases in likelihood with every tackle absorbed. Addazio told reporters on Monday that, given Towles’s injury, freshman Anthony Brown is also preparing for possible game time on Saturday. Yet that decision could affect his redshirt eligibility, which should be absolutely paramount for this program at the moment.
Ever since BC learned who he was last September, Wade has dealt with uncertainty. Even now, as he studies NC State’s defensive patterns in preparation for this weekend’s ACC showdown, there’s a chance he doesn’t get the start. But if he does, he has an incredible opportunity to surprise people and win a conference bout that the program so desperately needs—and maybe the starting job for good, too.
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Staff