As Darius Douglas watched his friends sign with colleges in February, he wondered about his choice.
These were people the Berkeley High School quarterback had played with or against. These were peers he felt were at his level.
They were signing National Letters of Intent, having their futures celebrated. He wasn’t part of it.
“It was kind of like a jealous moment for me,” Douglas said. “Not really jealous, but I was happy for them, but it was kind of one of those moments like, ‘Well, man, if they’re signing, I might as well sign too.’
“It was like, ‘OK, we all are on the same level of play and we all are as confident as good as we are. We all should be settling somewhere.’ And they were all signing, but I don’t have anywhere to sign. It just kind of motivated me.”
Instead, Douglas was chasing something else, a plan he’d hatched with former teammate Israel Mukuamu at a University of South Carolina camp the previous summer. He was impressed by the tour, liked the environment and told his friend he might walk on.
The summer wore on and he got offers from smaller schools, but not much materialized from FBS options. All the while he, his family and coaches were reaching out, working lines of communication and setting things up for him to become a Gamecock.
“It was really stressful,” Douglas said. “It was a lot of times where I’d say it and I think it to myself, ‘Is this really what you want to do?’ I once read a quote and it said, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.’ And I knew I was dreaming the right dream because it was actually scaring me to work harder and actually achieve that dream.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound passer will join a Gamecocks quarterback room with only three scholarship passers: starter Jake Bentley, freshman Jay Urich and veteran backup Michael Scarnecchia. As a senior at Berkeley, Douglas threw for 2,112 yards and 28 touchdowns, to go with 760 yards rushing and 13 scores. He helped turn around the Stags from a 4-7 season to 9-3 last year.
That could prepare him for the adversity of his next step. Berkeley had slipped since its heyday under coach Jerry Brown, and a solid 2014 gave way to a 2015 in which then-coach Jeff Cruce decided to stop punting, leading to a sub-.500 campaign despite a Douglas-led offense averaging 34.6 points per game.
Cruce was out and Randy Robinson stepped in. Douglas immediately caught his attention.
“He was looking for somebody to take charge of the program when I was hired,” Robinson said. “Obviously, they had struggled in football. Front row at the team meeting. Front row at the senior meeting. Never took his eyes off of me. He wanted somebody to believe in. We added a little bit of a structure to the program to help him get it going.”
The coach praised his quarterback off the field, pointing out he was a Beta Club member and leader at school. He also called Douglas a true dual-threat player.
Robinson admitted there was some frustration getting into the recruiting process late. There was an offer from S.C. State and interest from N.C. A&T and Presbyterian. Several times smaller schools came back with offers, trying to put together a financial package.
“You want to be wanted,” Robinson said. “But from the time we won the 7-on-7 up there, this summer, I really felt he was wanted at Carolina.”
The relationship with Gamecocks offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was good. (The coach wanted to get Douglas on a throwing regimen before he enrolled). Douglas said he talked to former walk-on QB Perry Orth when he announced and planned to talk to former Berkeley star Bruce Ellington about his process.
The life of a walk-on passer has some challenges, being part of a tight room but also gunning to take a job that scholarship players expect to hold. Douglas didn’t waiver.
“Once I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it,” Douglas said. “And I just made sure that if that was going to be my plan, I was going to stick to it. I wasn’t going to back out of it.”