Davis Webb was at an all-time low.
"I didn't know what I did wrong," he said.
Texas Tech was approaching its 2013 season opener against SMU when head coach Kliff Kingsbury named true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback—not Webb.
The decision had to be influenced, at least in part, by the back injury to Red Raiders sophomore and presumed starter Michael Brewer. Webb, a freshman, didn't care either way. He wasn't the No. 1 guy.
Webb joined Texas Tech a year ago as an early enrollee so he could participate in spring practices. Instead of enjoying his final semester of high school with his friends or preparing for prom, he was diving into Kingsbury's playbook and reading defenses. He was competing against players four years his senior.
"I can’t tell you how invaluable that was for him," Kingsbury said, "to get accustomed to our system and to feel like he belonged."
It was all part of a plan that began when Webb was a sophomore at Prosper High School. Being Texas Tech's starting quarterback was the dream. There was no losing sight of it.
Webb received his scholarship offer from Tech on May 25, 2012. Four days later, he verbally committed. But when Red Raiders head coach Tommy Tuberville left Lubbock to take the same position at Cincinnati that December, Webb began considering his options.
The next day, Webb said, TCU head coach Gary Patterson made an in-home visit.
Webb didn't have a lot of time to decide. He was graduating high school in a couple of weeks and had to enroll somewhere in four. Around that time, Tech hired Kingsbury, a former Red Raiders quarterback whom Webb had followed since his days as an assistant under head coach Kevin Sumlin at Houston.
Kingsbury invited Webb to take a visit to Lubbock. Webb was instantly sold. He loved Kingsbury. He loved the vibe around the program. The plan was a go.
Or so he thought.
Mayfield earned the starting job even though he had only been with the team for preseason practices. Webb was stunned. This wasn't how it was supposed to be.
"Coming here to Texas Tech, graduating early, doing everything to try to beat out Michael Brewer, and for another guy my age to come in and win the job? It was rough on me, but made me stronger as a person," Webb explained.
The decision came at a tough time in Webb's personal life, too. He was depressed, stressed out and sick, which dropped him to 168 pounds.
But all Webb cared about was figuring out why. Why wasn't he the guy? This was, as Webb put it, his job.
"When I was told I wasn’t going to be the starting quarterback, I felt like I was in [Kingsbury's office] daily, hourly," Webb said. "My goal was to be the starting quarterback at Texas Tech and I didn’t reach that goal. So I made sure to let him know that I deserved that opportunity. He told me what I needed to do and I did it."
There's no doubt Webb was trying hard. The problem is that he was trying too hard.
"He was trying to hit a home run with every throw," Kingsbury said. "He didn’t let the game come to him. You can’t do that, especially with our system when you throw the ball as much as we do."
Webb conceded. "I have a big head."
"I made a decision that I thought was best for the team in Week 1," added Kingsbury. "Whether it was right or wrong, you have to make that decision."
And did it ever look right. Mayfield threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score in a 41-23 win over the Mustangs. Kingsbury was a genius; Mayfield was the next Johnny Manziel; and Webb was the backup lost in the moment of hyperbole.
Webb had his own moment two weeks later in a Thursday night game against TCU—the very school that made a late push to recruit him—in a 20-10 win. Mayfield left the game, a defensive struggle, in the fourth quarter with a left leg injury.
In relief, Webb led an eight-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 19-yard touchdown pass to Bradley Marquez with just under four minutes left to play. He went 3-of-4 passing for 77 yards.
Despite throwing the go-ahead touchdown, Webb still wasn't the starter. He did, however, appear in the next two games, wins over Texas State and Kansas, when Mayfield was either ineffective or hurt. On Oct. 12, he made his first start in a 42-35 win over Iowa State and started the next four games. However, in a 49-26 loss to Kansas State—the Red Raiders' third in a row as part of a five-game slide to end the season—Webb was replaced by Mayfield.
Webb didn't start again for the rest of the regular season.
Then, the attrition began.
The Dallas Morning News reported on Dec. 11 that Mayfield was transferring—hours after he was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. One month later, Brewer announced he would transfer. Both quarterbacks took parting shots at Kingsbury and the program.
"On a personal level, it hurt," Kingsbury confessed, "but it made me look back and say, ‘I need to handle each situation differently.’
"It was hard to get to know those kids in the short amount of time I was around them. But I learned from that year and now I try to be that much more in tune with what’s going on."
Quarterback transfers have become trendy. As Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel opined in February, an increasing impatience to play has led many backups to seek better opportunities elsewhere:
That prevailing impatience among young quarterbacks coupled with more upperclassmen taking advantage of the NCAA's graduate transfer waiver (for example, former Wisconsin one-year wonder Russell Wilson) has turned college football's quarterback carousel into a virtual waiver wire. More than 20 quarterbacks have already transferred out of or into a BCS-conference program since the end of the season, and there will presumably be another round after depth charts come into focus in upcoming spring practices.
Kingsbury agrees. There was a time when a quarterback depth chart had a senior, junior, sophomore and a freshman; now, things are more spaced out.
"Transfers are the nature of the business," he admitted, "so you better have a young guy ready to play immediately."
Kingsbury had two in 2013. Mayfield and Webb played significant snaps, put up big stats and won games. In a way, both felt they were snubbed at one point or another. The difference was Webb was out to prove Kingsbury wrong by staying.
And he did. And Kingsbury liked that.
"When I told Davis he wouldn’t be the Game 1 starter, he said, 'I’m going to show you,'" said Kingsbury. "I have a ton of respect for the way he handled that."
Every player can say they work hard, but Kingsbury claims Webb is maniacal. The freshman kept striving, and soon, the game slowed down. He cut down on mistakes and made better decisions.
"As a freshman, you’re going to take your lumps, physically and mentally," said Kingsbury. "But he got better each week."
With Mayfield out, Webb started in Tech's stunning Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. He was named the game's MVP after throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns. Finally, he appeared to have a leg up on the competition going into spring.
With Brewer's departure, though, Webb isn't just the guy. He's the only guy. True freshman Patrick Mahomes will join the team later this summer, as will a few walk-ons. The Red Raiders have also received a verbal commitment from 4-star dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Stidham for the class of 2015.
|Texas Tech Quarterback Stats—2013|
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In the meantime, Webb is the only quarterback on the roster.
Kingsbury wanted an open competition in the spring. "It brings out the best in people," he said.
"At Texas A&M, we had Jameill Showers, who is starting at UTEP, Johnny Manziel and Matt Joeckel, who is probably going to start at TCU. Competition made those guys better."
What Webb didn't have in competition this spring, he made up for by taking control of the team. He says he's a better teammate now than he's ever been.
"Last year, my roommates were Jace Amaro and Kenny Williams. With Brad Marquez, that was my crew. That’s who I hung out with," Webb said. "That’s fine, but to be the quarterback, you have to get to know everyone."
Webb stopped just short of naming himself the bona fide starter for 2014, even though Kingsbury did as much last month. Maybe that's nothing more than a self-motivating tactic. "Going into Week 1 this year, I should be the starter," he said. "I think I will be if everything goes right."
That's the plan, anyway. It has been all along.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of ESPN. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.