On Saturday afternoon, the Salve Regina University (Newport, R.I.) football team lost its second game of the season, 35-26 to Commonwealth Coast Conference rival Western New England. Even with that defeat, the Seahawks are an impressive 5-2 this fall and just a game back of the league leaders.
One reason for Salve’s success on the gridiron this season has been the play of senior quarterback Danny McDermott. The Franklin High alum has waited three years for his chance at the starting job and he is making good use of the opportunity, completing more than 54 percent of his passes, throwing for more than 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns in the first seven games of the season.
Last week, against rival Endicott, McDermott set a career-high with 321 passing yards and also tossed three touchdowns in a big win. In an interview in the days following the Endicott win, McDermott passed most of the credit onto the play of his teammates.
“I got put into a spot that makes it look like I’m doing very well, but they make it a lot easier for me to perform,” he said. “I think the whole team is really playing well.”
After three years of waiting for his name to be called, McDermott (who saw limited action at quarterback over the past two seasons) has a deeper appreciation for what it means to be able to run out on the field with his teammates every weekend. It isn’t just about wins and losses but about the experience of putting on the uniform and being part of the team.
“It’s one of those things that I walk onto the field, whether it’s a game or it’s a practice, and I say thank you,” McDermott explained. “For me, as someone who went three years without starting, I get to go start on Saturday and it’s an amazing thing that I definitely don’t take for granted.”
Before arriving on the Newport campus, McDermott already knew what it was like to be the backup. He was second in the depth chart behind Nick Zucco at Franklin and he was regularly shuffled each season to the defensive side of the ball.
That continued when he got to Salve as a freshman. Record-setting quarterback Steven Wilken was the starter during McDermott’s first collegiate season and Brandan Basil, who is now on the Salve coaching staff, was the starter for each of the past two seasons. McDermott did get some experience in big wins and got to start last year against Maine Maritime, but most of his time was on the sidelines.
Every player wants to get on the field and play. To put in all the work during the week and not play on Saturday is a hard experience for players at any level, but McDermott credited Salve head coach Kevin Gilmartin for being upfront with him about his role on the team and the friendship he developed with Basil for always making him feel like he was contributing.
“I could come to him with any question, about football, not about football,” McDermott said of Gilmartin. “Having that relationship made it so that being on the sidelines on Saturday was much more bearable because he could come to me and ask, ‘What did you see on this play,’ or I could go to him and say, ‘Why don’t we try this?’”
He added, “Sometimes backup quarterbacks could feel like they’re not really valued on the team because they’re not playing on Saturday’s but, between [Brandan] and Coach Gil, they made it that as a backup I was valued much more than maybe other backups feel.”
McDermott made the switch to wide receiver last fall in the hopes of getting more playing time, but the experiment only lasted a few weeks of the season before he decided to go back to being a QB. He said, “I really liked it but my body wasn’t really having it. I was having back problems and…I’m not really able to help the team if I can’t run a seam route.” That change of position did make him closer to the young receiving corps on the team, including then-freshman Brendan Nunes (Attleboro) who has caught seven touchdowns this year.
“With the older guys, we’ve gone through four years of playing together, so that kind of comes naturally,” said McDermott. “I built that rapport with the freshmen last year and then over the summer I was able to throw with a couple guys just to build that relationship even more. This year, there’s been tremendous growth with me and those guys from camp to now.”
Coming into camp as the presumptive starter was a completely new experience for McDermott. Even if the starting job was not guaranteed, there was a different feel to his role on the team and how he was viewed by his teammates.
“It’s a cool feeling. Guys are looking up to you and you’re expected to step up and play that position,” he reflected. “It makes it so much more fun when you have that opportunity put in front of you and you want to work towards it with everything you’ve got.”
As a lacrosse player as well, McDermott could not fully participate in spring workouts, so he was concerned that he might not get the nod, but at the end of camp Gilmartin said that he won the competition and earned the starting spot. He admitted that being a starter was a great feeling, but also acknowledged that he never wanted his role to impact how he felt about being part of the team.
McDermott said, “I love football, so I enjoy coming to practice every day even if I’m not going to start on Saturday (or Friday). It’s more about, I love my boys, so if I can ball out at practice and make them better then how we do on Saturday reflects on me too.”
The Endicott came was the culmination of three years of waiting, watching, and learning. The Gulls decided to put the game in McDermott’s hands and the senior responded.
He explained, “They would bring six or seven every time and out-number our line, so one kid would get free shot at me but if I could get it off then it would be a big play and luckily I was able to get it off most of the time so it turned out well for me.”
During the second quarter, McDermott had his helmet knocked off and was forced to the bench for a play. Former Attleboro quarterback Tyler McGovern came in and connected with former Bombardiers teammate Nunes on a 28-yard completion, much to the delight of the Seahawks.
“It was awesome,” said McDermott. “Coach was just like, ‘We’re going to run this play, throw it to this kid (Brendan Nunes), and he’s going to be open. It was a little Attleboro connection and it was awesome. The crowd was hyped, the whole team was hyped, we were so excited for the kid.”
As a three-year back-up who collaborated with the starter, McDermott can appreciate the importance of being a leader to the guys lower on the depth chart, including McGovern. Rather than approaching the relationship like the backups are trying to take his job, McDermott wants to include them and let them learn from his experience.
“The last couple years, me and Brandan Basil had a very good friendship,” McDermott said. “I tried to bring that into this year. There’s a few backup quarterbacks who could be some dudes and there’s no reason for me not to share my knowledge with them because I’ve been here for four years and I know the playbook very well.”
McDermott has a lot to share. He is balancing a demanding nursing program with collegiate athletics; he is balancing lacrosse and football at Salve; and he spent three years balancing his desire to play with his desire to be a good teammate. In addition, he can pass along his experience of just what it means to be able to pull on the pads every day, whether it means a starting role on Saturday or not.
“In high school,” he explained, “I got to say, maybe I’ll play in college, but it’s senior year of college football and I don’t see myself playing any more after this. So, my days are numbered as a college quarterback.
“You don’t want to take any second for granted.”