The right knee injury that ended the season of Boston College redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown forced the Eagles to reshuffle the deck at a crucial point in the season as they look to secure a bowl berth with two games remaining, It also struck a chord with the player who will have to fill his shoes, Darius Wade.
It was just two years ago that Wade was in a similarly devastating situation.
He had been handed the reins to the offense in 2015 as a sophomore with the hope that he’d pick up where Tyler Murphy left off the year before when he threw for 1,623 yards, rushed for 1,179 yards, and pushed BC to the Pinstripe Bowl.
But Wade’s time as the starter was cut short just as it was getting going.
Three games into the season, Wade dropped back to pass in the fourth quarter of a close game against Florida State, saw 300-pound defensive lineman Nile Lawrence-Stample barreling at him, and tried to take the sack. But he crumpled awkwardly under the weight and suffered a broken left ankle that cost him the season.
“It’s just definitely a lot of overwhelming emotion that hits you at once,” Wade said. “The pain from the injury itself, as well as knowing that you can no longer play this season and that your teammates are out there playing while you’re just stuck out here watching on crutches.”
The injury shifted the Eagles’ season — they finished 3-9 and went winless in the ACC — and Wade’s career, as he subsequently fought an uphill battle trying to regain his spot as a starter.
When Brown went down last week in a loss to North Carolina State — the latest in a rash of injuries the Eagles have had this season — Wade understood the impact as much as anyone.
“It’s not like he’s ever really been hurt like that before,” said Wade. “So I just told him to keep his head up, just rehab every day you can, and find a way to get back as quick as possible.”
Wade will make his first start since 2015 when the Eagles face Connecticut Saturday night at Fenway Park, and his challenge will be to keep an improved offense clicking.
“Just pretty much try and keep things business as usual,” Wade said. “This is a situation where we have to make this as seamless as possible.
“It’s a very unfortunate thing to happen, and that’s never a way you want to earn your job is through injury. However, that’s how it panned out this time. We’ve got two major games ahead of us where we can get bowl-eligible and end this season on a high note.”
In the two years since his injury, Wade has been tested. He lost a quarterback competition last season to transfer Patrick Towles and contemplated transferring but returned to battle for the job again this season, only to see Brown get the nod.
He has been a positive veteran presence in the locker room and remained ready if needed. In seven appearances this season, he has completed 23 of 40 passes for 225 yards. After Brown suffered a shoulder injury against Louisville Oct. 14, Wade connected on 7 of 10 passes for 91 yards and helped the Eagles pull off a come-from-behind upset.
But the task of staying ready as a backup isn’t an easy one.
“It definitely is a challenge,” Wade said. “You always try to get yourself in the mind-set that you’re going to play, that you’re the starter, so that you can mentally prepare and be ready at any point. But it is always a weird dynamic to go from on the sidelines watching to now you’re in the game, full speed, playing Division 1 football, especially against good competition.
“As the backup, you don’t get, of course, all the starter reps, so there’s a lot of things that you miss throughout the week. But I feel like having a full week to just prepare, get all the tip sheets and all the notes and all the game reps, that’ll definitely help a lot.”
Last week, he was thrown into the fire against a ravenous defensive line that kept the pressure on. While he was taking time to make reads, the Wolfpack were in hot pursuit, sacking him five times.
Making quicker decisions was a focal point all week.
“I have to have that mental clock and be aware,” said Ware. “ ‘All right, we have a really elite pass rusher. I’ve got to step up in the pocket more, I’ve got to get rid of the ball quicker,’ and things like that.”
Coach Steve Addazio said he can’t afford to be conservative with Wade under center.
“We need playmaking,” Addazio said. “We’re going to attack, just like we have been. Not really looking for a game manager. We got out of that mode and grew and got to the point where we’re attacking defenses.”
The BC receivers have complete trust in Wade.
“All the wide receivers and tight ends, we’ve built chemistry with Darius and Anthony,” said Kobay White, the team’s leading receiver. “So it’ll be exciting to see what happens.
“But we’re not worried. We’re pretty confident we’ll still be able to keep doing what we’re doing with Darius.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.