Roll back the calendar to September 29, 2006.
North Penn lost starting quarterback Kyle Feiser to an injury in the first half of its showdown against undefeated Pennsbury, and sophomore Justin Davey was about to make his varsity debut.
“It was a pivotal game for us,” said Knight coach Dick Beck, whose team was 2-2 at the time while the Falcons had blown out their first four opponents by a combined 77-26 score. “I remember that long walk from the locker room to the stadium at halftime, and I looked at him and said, ‘This is your team. You’re the man. We’ll go as far as you take us.’
“He kept looking at me and said, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready. This is mine.’”
On the third play of the second half, the Knights ran a quarterback keeper.
“Justin ran it for 40 yards,” Beck said. “We were losing at the time, and we ended up driving and scoring the go-ahead score. We played defense the rest of the game and never relinquished the lead. That was a huge win for us, and it was all because of him.”
Davey, who started two more games that season, had served notice that he was not only a player, he was fearless.
“We used to have a motivational saying when I first got here – Bear Bryant used to say, ‘There’s no substitute for guts,’ and this kid has guts,” Beck said. “That’s what he plays on.”
These days, Davey is a marquee player on a Knight squad that is just two wins away from a state title. He still has guts, but he also has plenty of talent, and in an era of specialization, the star QB has found a way to excel not only on the gridiron but on the baseball diamond as well.
“Within two minutes of seeing Justin on the field, you know you’re looking at a very gifted athlete,” Knight coach Bob McCreary said. “However, his athletic skills are not his best attribute. He is one of those players that come along every now and then that are very easy to coach.
“You teach him something new, and you never have to tell him again. He picks things up and makes adjustments faster than most players. Couple this with his great natural skills, a nice humble personality, and you have a player who is a dream to have on your team.”
Kevin Manero, who coaches Davey’s Nor-Gwyn American Legion squad and is an assistant at North Penn, called Davey a “sort of throwback.”
“He makes great sacrifices in his own life to juggle his schedule to go from football lifting to the baseball field with no time in between,” Manero said. “Now I see him in the fall, and a lot of his baseball friends are talking about college coaches and what schools they’re going to. Justin doesn’t even have time to think about college because he’s trying to win a state championship, and that’s what’s most important to him.
“He wants the success of the team that he’s on, and I think that’s a rare thing today to see kids that really do put the team first. We’re in a narcissistic age where we look at professional athletes and see a lot of ‘Me, me, me.’ Justin has never gone down that road, and more impressive than his athletic ability is his ‘team comes first’ mentality. You can say that about people, but for him, it’s a genuine, authentic feeling.”
A typical summer day for Davey consists of an early wake-up call to attend football workouts from 8 a.m. to noon. After that, it’s off to a baseball game.
“I’ll get home around 11,” he said. “It’s pretty much football and baseball all the time, and I like it.”
Davey has made a commitment to both sports, and neither has suffered because of the other.
“When baseball season is over, he was the first guy in the weight room,” Beck said. “He never missed a workout. He comes to everything.”
Davey played a key role on North Penn’s run to a district title in baseball, and he’s been at the center of the Knights’ ascent to a district crown in football as well.
“The one thing he has improved on most is his arm strength,” Beck said. “Last year, I thought he lacked arm strength.
“With a lot of work in the summertime, he has developed and is able to get the ball out there so we can run under it. He has been accurate with his short throws, and he’s got to be the best thrower on the run in the area.”
While some athletes might suggest that football and baseball require vastly different training regiments, Davey believes his training for football has elevated his game on the diamond as well.
“It can’t hurt to be stronger and faster,” he said.
It won’t be long before Davey has to decide which sport he wants to pursue at the collegiate level.
“It’s going to be the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” he said.
Davey has been playing organized baseball since he was six years old. He didn’t begin playing football until he was in seventh grade. He immediately stepped into the quarterback role.
“I wasn’t a starter,” he said. “I was just on the team. I didn’t really know anything about football. I watched it with my dad (John Davey), and he had played, so he got me interested in it.
“I picked it up, and I started liking it. I pitched when I was younger, and I think that definitely helped with just the whole aspect of throwing and how to manage the game.”
After his ninth grade season was completed, Davey began to work out with the varsity.
“I loved it – just everyday out there with the whole team, lifting and running together,” he said. “I thought it was awesome.”
Awesome is the word Davey uses to describe the Knights’ 28-0 win over archrival Neshaminy to capture the District One Quad A title.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” he said. “To just put everything toward one goal and to be striving for that one goal – to finally reach it is awesome.”
Davey, a dangerous runner out of the backfield, credits his teammates for making his job a whole lot easier.
“All I have to do is throw a pass five yards or hand it off to Tyler (Smith) or Ronnie (Akins), and they can take it the rest of the way,” he said. “It doesn’t put a strain on me to always make a big play.
“Our team chemistry is great. Everybody is friends with each other. We all hang out with each other in and out of football. I would not want to be on any other team in the entire state.”
Davey credits his coaches along the way for his development. Coach Joseph Devine, coach Klatz and coach Muhn were instrumental during his middle school and ninth grade seasons. More recently, he has worked closely with assistant coach Jeff Childs, who also coaches baseball.
“I can talk to him about anything,” Davey said. “We’ll sit down and watch film together. When coach Beck gets on me about something, I’ll just go to him, and he’ll sit down with me and explain it.”
According to Beck, Davey does not shy away from criticism.
“I remember I thought I was a little hard on him, and he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, if I do something wrong, I want to hear about it,’” the Knights’ coach said. “He told me that his sophomore year.
“Today the mentality of kids is – ‘It was this person’s fault’ or they’ll make an excuse. He’ll say, ‘I just blew it.’ He’s very candid.”
Davey, according to Beck, carries that attitude into all facets of his life.
“He’s a very good student, he handles himself great, and he’s a leader on and off the field,” the Knight coach said. “I think he’s the total package.
“As a high school player, I would put him in the mold of (former North Penn quarterback) Justin Wutti – guys that are great leaders. I hate to call them game managers, but this kid handles everything we ask him to do on our offense, and he does it well.”
Well enough to lead the Knights to the Eastern Final during a magical season.