The term Pee Wee is typically used to describe something small. A lot of times it also serves as a nickname to a person who was smaller than their peers at a young age. Nicknames sometimes stick to a person their entire lives, transitioning from a baby into adulthood, a lot of times causing people to forget a person’s real name.
When North Carolina Central head coach Trei Oliver was asked about freshman quarterback Davius Richard two weeks ago, the first thing Oliver did was announce his nickname, telling the room that Richard goes by Pee Wee.
Richard, at 6-3 and 200 pounds, isn’t small by stature, and during his time filling in for junior Micah Zanders, the Miami, Fla. , native has been playing big. For his first home game, last weekend against Elizabeth City State, Richard introduced himself to the crowd by completing 17 of 24 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. In two full games, Richard has completed 53.8 percent of his passes, averaging 186.3 yards per contest.
After his most recent performance, he was named the Co-MEAC Rookie of the Week. While Zanders is expected to make a return at some point this season, Oliver and the staff are comfortable with Richard leading the way in his absence.
“As you can see he’s the future of this program,” Oliver said after the 41-7 win over ECSU. “He’s a playmaker, he’s a gamer.”
As a senior at Glades Central High School, Richard threw for 3,274 yards and 29 touchdowns. When he arrived at camp over the summer, there was a four-man race for the quarterback spot, making it hard for the freshman to get quality practice reps.
When a player isn’t getting the physical reps, going through the motions mentally is key. Eagles offensive coordinator Moses Ware said that’s what Richard did, so when he was thrown in the fire against Towson in week two it wasn’t too much for him to handle.
In limited duty Richard led NCCU with 109 yards passing. Not gaudy numbers by any means, but enough to let everyone on the team know he was ready for the challenge.
“Towson game,” senior defensive end Darius Royster replied after being asked when Richard won him over. “He just showed poise as a freshman quarterback going against Towson, a good FCS team in his first (game). Everyone just was shocked at how well he played.”
Richard had three passes intercepted the next week versus Gardner-Webb, but Ware was impressed that the rookie immediately knew what he had done wrong, already pointing out the mistakes on the sideline.
Those conversations, Ware said, show that Richard is paying attention to what the coach teaches in team meetings. He had zero turnovers against ECSU and has completed 70 percent of his passes the last two games. Some of the flashes he has shown has caused Ware, who coached record-breaking quarterback Amir Hall at Bowie State, to shake his head.
Ware thinks back to a play against Towson. He called a bootleg, requiring Richard to roll out of the pocket with an option to pass short to the flats, or an intermediate route across the middle. Much to the surprise of Ware, Richard went for option three, throwing the ball deep down the field, hitting his receiver in stride.
“He had the ability to hit the home run shot,” Ware said, almost shaking his head. “There are things from a coaches standpoint that he takes from the classroom to the field, to the game, that he is able to do. That’s refreshing.”
Richard explains that he picked up the offense fairly quickly in camp. When Richard wasn’t at the football facility the coaches, like Ware, were constantly calling to see if he was in his playbook.
“Going into game four I was feeling pretty confident in the offense,” Richard said.
In his home debut, Richard completed passes to 11 different receivers, spreading the wealth, showing Ware he could go through all his progressions while also keeping the defense off balance.
Ware said he doesn’t spoon-feed the offense to Richard anymore. If he would have been asked that question a month ago the answer would have been yes. But seeing how Richard handles it all, there is no more baby steps.
“He’s getting better and better on a daily basis, on a weekly basis,” Ware said. “It’s scary.”
Since 2013-14, NCCU has been steady at quarterback. Malcolm Bell started 24 consecutive games. In the 26 games the Eagles have played since Bell graduated, four different quarterbacks have started. There is no timeline for Zanders to return, and when he does, it is yet to be seen what that will mean for Richard. But Oliver calling him the future of the program speaks volumes.
“I’m glad that he sees me in that way, I really appreciate that,” Richard said. “You know as a freshman I’m really trying to transition from high school to college, so I appreciate the faith he has in me.”