YOUNGSTOWN – It was an opportunity Mitch Davidson dreamed of as a kid.
With Youngstown State at a crossroads in its quarterback position after four games of the season, the Penguins made a change and opted to add Davidson to the starting lineup in place of Demeatric Crenshaw.
“I just wanted a chance. (I’m) just a kid from Youngstown, and that’s all I ever wanted,” Davidson said. “(The coaches) gave me that opportunity and I’ve always said once I got it, I don’t want to give it back.”
Davidson seems poised to stay true to that goal.
The Salem native dropped his first career start in North Dakota, 35-30 before winning five of his last six to end the season with a 5-2 record as a starter. Additionally, he finished the year 119-for-201 for 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
“Mitch is doing a great job mastering the offense,” said YSU Coach Doug Phillips. “He has the respect (from his teammates) and then he has the arm.”
The transformation of the YSU offensive was clear. The Penguins struggled to expand the field in their first four games, but Davidson managed to turn the unit into a multidimensional threat that complemented the already strong ground game centered around Jaleel McLaughlin.
In his first start against UND, Davidson went 21-to-32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He continued this in his next three starts, throwing for 223 yards against Indiana State, 221 against Western Illinois, and 242 against South Dakota.
He had a two-week break against Illinois State and Missouri State, in which he threw for 143 and 117 yards, respectively, but he finished the season on a strong note with a 24-for-38 performance that included 268 yards and two touchdowns.
It was also full of thrills and stress. In two of Davidson’s wins — the 28-27 win in western Illinois and the 19-17 win in Illinois State — the Penguins were late behind before a final drive would lead YSU to a win.
Davidson pointed to the chemistry he was able to develop with his teammates.
“My teammates, when things aren’t going well, they come around me, they pick me up and that’s huge,” he said. “And just the friendships I’ve built. I told my center Mike McAllister (before the game against Southern Illinois on Saturday) that this won’t be the last game I play with you. So just the trust, I go back to that a lot, and my teammates – guys like Bryce Oliver and Jaleel McLaughlin – trust me to make games. It’s been big since the first launch.”
Davidson and co. did it again on Saturday, recovering from a 21-7 deficit to a 28-21 win over SIU in the season finale.
“I got frustrated on a couple of rides, but my coaches keep me on track and keep my head talking through everything and just keeping our offense soft,” Davidson said. “Mike McAllister actually came up to me before the first drive that we needed a touchdown to stay in and he said, ‘I got you.’ It took some weight off my shoulders and let me know that the top five would do anything for me.
With YSU eliminated from the postseason mix, Davidson and the Penguins now enter a critical offseason in which they will attempt to build on this year’s 7-4 mark, which included a 5-3 record in the Missouri Valley .
Phillips said the coaching staff will meet with each player individually to develop an individual plan for the offseason, including Davidson.
For his part, Davidson says he’ll be heading to the weight room to get bigger and stronger, but also looking to further develop his offensive chemistry while looking for an identity with McLaughlin’s graduation.
“I need to get bigger; I need to get stronger,” Davidson said. “As an attacker, I think we just need to figure out what works best for us – getting a running game to work that complements our passing game and a passing game to complement our running game.”
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