David Watford was 4 years old, as he remembers it, when he met Ronald Curry at Hampton High School. He had never seen him on the football field, where Curry was a virtuoso in cleats and led the Crabbers to three state championships, but that didn't stop Watford from getting his autograph.
Watford knew Curry's successor, Marques Hagans, much better. He and Biscuit, as Hagans came to be known, are first cousins. And he remembers watching him at Darling Stadium, where he led the Crabbers to a state title as the starting quarterback.
And Watford is good friends with Tyrod Taylor, who still gives him pointers from across the state at Virginia Tech. And, yes, Taylor also has a state championship ring.
Watford is the latest in what has become a rich tradition at Hampton High School — the quarterback. It started even before Curry, with guys like Eric Hunter, Michael Bullock, DeRocke Croom and … well, we're running out of space. And it continues with Watford, the Crabbers' starter since the middle of his sophomore year.
"It's an honor to be able to play this position here," said Watford, who is headed to Virginia next fall. "I just feel blessed that Coach put me in this position to be a leader on the field. The game's on the line and they're looking at me to make a play.
"The people who played the position before me, I look up to them. Like Marcus and Ronald and Tyrod, I want to accomplish what they accomplished here."
You don't have to ask Watford what he means by that. It's not the stats or the scholarship he's after, it's the state championship. This year is not only his last chance, it's his best.
The Crabbers are 7-0, 6-0 in the Peninsula District, entering Friday night's game against Phoebus. The winner of that game will all but clinch the district championship and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Region Division 5 playoffs.
"Success at Hampton is judged by a state championship," he said. "When you're the quarterback and you play for Hampton, you're expected to win it. They don't have to say anything to you because it's part of the tradition. Every year, that's our goal."
Curry is arguably the greatest player in Peninsula District history — if not VHSL history. He did things no one else had even thought of — as a quarterback, where he threw for 8,212 yards in his career, but also as a safety on defense and as a return man.
He started from Day One as a freshman and led Hampton to a 51-2 record and three state championships. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country and chose North Carolina (after originally choosing Virginia). He played seven seasons in the NFL.
Hagans had the unfortunate timing of following Curry's act, but he was more than sufficient. In two seasons as the starter, he threw for 3,510 yards and 46 TDs. The Crabbers went 25-2 and won a state title. He later started at Virginia and played in the pros.
Taylor took over as a sophomore and led the Crabbers a 36-4 mark, which included the 2005 state title. He's starting at Virginia Tech and recently became the Hokies' all-time winningest quarterback.
Before them, Hunter was the man in the late 1980s. At 6-foot-5 and with a rocket for an arm, he signed with Purdue and became the program's fourth all-time leading passer. There was Carlos Campbell, though he was more of an athlete playing quarterback. He signed with Notre Dame.
You have to wonder: Does Mike Smith's system have something to do with all this success?
"That's probably part of it," said Smith, the Crabbers' coach since 1971. "But the first thing is, you have to have the athletic ability. Most of the good ones we've had were naturals."
Taylor remembers what it felt like playing the position at Hampton.
"I took pride in being able to go in there and play quarterback for Coach Smith," Taylor said. "They expect you to win. I guess that's the kind of pressure you put on yourself. You want to go out there and try to exceed all the records and stuff that guys set before you."
Watford would settle for joining Curry, Hagans, and Taylor as state title winners. And he's providing the type of leadership the Crabbers need to get there.
His numbers aren't as flashy as his predecessors, but they're solid. He's completing 54 percent of his passes for 711 yards with six touchdowns. He has no interceptions in 83 attempts. He's also rushed for 442 yards and eight touchdowns.
"I don't think David's had the type of year that he's capable of having," Smith said. "That's not a criticism, it's a fact. He knows he can do better. I think he put too much pressure on himself and people from the outside were expecting him to do too much."
With the emergence of Kavon Bellamy and Dallas Cogdell at running back, Watford hasn't had to do everything this year.
"There's been a lot of weight taken off my shoulders because we have so many weapons now," he said. "We have receivers and running backs, our offensive line makes it easier on us, and our defense shuts people down. We were a great team last year, especially at the end of the year. But this year, we started out clicking on offense and it's been real good."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times