Dominique Blackman liked several things about Old Dominion. He trusted the coaching staff and appreciated the chance to get in on the ground floor of a burgeoning football program that went 9-2 in its first season.
He also needed a place to stay.
"Their housing — they allowed me to come the earliest out of any of the schools," Blackman said.
Blackman has been searching for a place to call home most of his life. Adopted at a young age, Blackman bounced around a series of foster homes throughout his adolescence in the Compton, Calif., area, and found shelter where he could as a young adult, including with a former coach at L.A. Harbor Community College in Wilmington.
"My father died when I was 5, and my mother just kind of left me when I was 2 years old," Blackman said. "My father was in and out of jail. Neither one of them could take care of me. I don't blame them. It's just kind of something that I try not to think about, because I just try not to dwell on the past."
The present, though, is also challenging for Blackman, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback with a strong arm and a fierce competitive streak. He's faced with the daunting task of trying to unseat Thomas DeMarco, who produced 2,813 total yards and 38 touchdowns last season, as the Monarchs' starter.
"I'm frustrated right now. That's just me," he said. "I'm a nervous guy, and I want to play. I've never not played. I've never been a backup. I've never felt this way before. It's just how a competitor feels. I want to play. That's just what it is. But according to some people, I don't have any game experience. That's what (DeMarco) has over me — game experience. I just want to be able to get in games and prove that I can play at this level."
Brett Peabody, the head coach at L.A. Harbor who was offensive coordinator when Blackman threw for 3,711 yards and 35 touchdowns last season, is certain that will happen.
"You're talking about a guy who, had he been patient, would have been playing in a BCS conference this year and competing for a starting job there," Peabody said. "You're talking about a guy who was the national offensive player of the year. When it comes to throwing the football, in my opinion, there won't be a competition."
Blackman averaged 337 passing yards per game in 2009 to earn POY honors from the Southern California Football Association and a measure of validation.
Highly recruited after leading Carson High to an 11-3 record and the Los Angeles city championship game with 2,086 passing yards and 19 TDs, Blackman committed to Washington, but academic issues delayed his enrollment. When he did arrive at UW, new coach Steve Sarkisian wanted him to switch from quarterback to tight end.
Unwilling to change positions, Blackman wound up at L.A. Harbor, where he immediately became the biggest man on campus.
"There was a real magnifying glass with him," said wide receivers coach Alphonso Williams, who formed a close relationship with Blackman. "There were so many people waiting for him to make mistakes. Every incomplete pass, every interception, it was magnified, because of who he was.
" … I think he really stepped up to the challenge, though. He really took control."
Blackman did so without the prima donna attitude some of his juco teammates may have expected from a Pac-10 signee.
"What really impressed me was his willingness to learn," Peabody said. "He was always the first guy in my office waiting to meet with me, always the last one to leave the field, always the first one to watch film, always wanting to get coached."
Things weren't going so smoothly off the field for Blackman, who lived with a paternal aunt until he turned 18 and can only remember seeing his mother once, when he was 14. At a Christmas awards banquet, Blackman approached Williams for a serious conversation.
"I think he was staying with his girlfriend at the time, and I know that whole situation, with her parents, wasn't the greatest," Williams said. "I think there was too many people in that house. He was like, 'I think I need to get out of here before I'm homeless.'
"For him to step up and just be like, 'Man, if there's anything you can do to help me …' I think that displays a lot. That says a lot about somebody's character. I said, 'Look, man, if you need a place to say, I'm there for you.' "
Blackman lived with Williams for about a month.
"He was a great kid," Williams said. "He cleaned up after himself, which is pretty hard for some young kids nowadays. He always made his bed every morning. He washed the dishes. He cooked. He was pretty independent."
Blackman also talked to Williams about his football future. Monarchs offensive coordinator Brian Scott traveled to California to woo Blackman, but "I didn't think we had any shot at the kid," Scott said. "I thought he was going I-A."
Scott forged ahead, and his persistence paid off.
"He just kind of wanted to get out of L.A., and it was a good fit,'" Scott said. "I knew the kid was just looking for an opportunity, and some kids thrive on that.
"... Dom is clearly plenty good enough to play right away. There's no question. If he was the guy, we'd have no problems at all. We'd be very excited for him. We'd have complete confidence in him. (But) right now, Thomas is No. 1, and Dom is No. 2."
DeMarco welcomes the competition, but isn't planning to hand Blackman his job.
"It's good to have him in there," DeMarco said. "If he completes a ball, I want to complete a ball. There's a friendly competition with that to do well in practice, but it's my job, and I think he understands that."
Blackman may understand it, but that doesn't mean he likes it.
On the Monarchs' second day of practice on Tuesday, "I didn't throw an incompletion the whole damn day, and the first day, I threw one incompletion," Blackman said Wednesday during ODU's media day. "I haven't turned the ball over. I'm the only quarterback that hasn't thrown an interception. ... I'm just trying to do what I need to do to play. I don't want to think about redshirting. I don't want to think about anything but playing, because that's what I came here to do, play."
ODU coach Bobby Wilder has been impressed with Blackman's arm and work ethic, but said any decisions about redshirting him, or employing him in a two-quarterback system with DeMarco, won't be made until the Monarchs get closer to their Sept. 4 season opener against Jacksonville.
"He definitely will not be happy if he's got to sit out," Wilder said. "He's competitive and he wants to play. He wants to be in the system. But I'm hopeful that he'll always be mindful of what's in the best interest of the program."
Blackman has three years of eligibility remaining to DeMarco's two, but he's not content to sit back and wait for his chance.
"I feel like I can play right now," he said. "You put both of us in the game against Jacksonville - let's rock.
"I'm out here 2,800 miles away from home, and I just want an opportunity."