Towson running back Darius Victor had a front-row seat to the scintillating runs that Terrance West made last year during the team's march to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game. And one of the things Victor, then a freshman, admired was West's patience.
"Last year, I rushed to the hole sometimes," Victor recalled. "I made a couple good plays, but I rushed some things. Terrance had great patience. He would tell me, 'Little bro, did you see that?' Everything he did, he would tell me, and that's why I love him so much. He would try to teach me everything he knew, and it's all about patience. That's the one thing I want to take from him, his patience."
The Tigers are hoping that Victor is a quick study because the 20-year-old sophomore is expected to succeed West — who set FCS records in rushing yards (2,509) and total touchdowns (42) and was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in May — as their featured tailback.
The departure of West, who could have returned for his senior campaign, may be mitigated by the presence of Victor, who gained 629 yards and seven touchdowns on 98 carries en route to being named the Colonial Athletic Association's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
But with the accolades come increased scrutiny, and how Victor has handled the extra attention impresses Towson coach Rob Ambrose.
"The scary thing is when a young guy has success, especially a freshman, because there's that sophomore jinx," Ambrose said. "All of a sudden, he thinks he's somebody, doesn't work as hard, just figures it's going to come to him, tries to change his game, and it just doesn't go well. [Victor] is still the same humble, hard-working guy that he was when he walked through that door for the first time. He's appreciative of every opportunity that he gets, every rep he gets, and he makes the most of them. That's the sign of a great football player, and I honestly think he'll be very good."
Victor's path to the Tigers has not been easy. One of seven children born to Gary and Patricia Victor, Darius Victor was born in 1994 in a refugee camp in the Ivory Coast after his parents had escaped Liberia, which was devastated by a civil war. Five years later, the Victor family was permitted to move to the United States where the family lived in several towns before settling in Brentwood in Prince George's County.
More tragedy beset the family when in December 2011, Kevin Victor, Darius Victor's older brother, was shot and killed while walking home after playing basketball near the family's home. Darius Victor, who was a junior at Northwestern High School at the time, looked up to his older brother.
"I started playing football because of him," said the younger Victor, who wore his brother's No. 7 at Northwestern and recently switched to that number from No. 27 at Towson. "He had to take care of me when my mom and dad were working. They called him Vic, and he would say, 'Hey, Little Vic, you want to play some football?' … I've learned to accept it. It was hard, but I learned that he's in a better place, and he's watching over me."
In October 2012, Darius Victor rushed for 289 yards and scored four touchdowns in the first half against Laurel, but later found out that the family's apartment had burned down due to a malfunctioning heater in another apartment in the building.
Despite the trials and tribulations, Victor continued to play football and be an example off the field among his teammates, classmates and teachers at Northwestern.
"He's a good person," said his high school coach Bryan Pierre. "One of the things that stand out about him is he's got a great personality. I don't think I've met too many people that have had anything but glowing remarks about his character, his attitude, the way he carries himself. He's a real down-to-earth type of kid."
Listed at 5 feet, 8 inches and 210 pounds, Victor enjoys the physical nature of his position, preferring to barrel over a would-be tackler rather than cut back. Fullback Emmanuel Holder said Victor's downhill-running style should make it easier for the duo to develop chemistry as starters.
"Some backs are very shifty," said Holder, a Baltimore native and Calvert Hall graduate. "So you might be making a block, and he might cut back, and that might hurt you a little bit. With Darius, you know he's going straight downhill, and the linebacker has to come to you, the defensive end has to come to you, and the safety has to come to you, and it's a lot easier making your blocks."
Victor, who caught five passes for 71 yards and one touchdown last season, was the change-of-pace back when West led the Tigers to the FCS title game. But can Victor handle a full workload?
"I think Darius can handle anything that Darius wants to," running backs coach Dassin Blackwell said. "He is a strong-willed human being, and when you have individuals like him who are playing for you and working for you, those individuals will run through walls."
Victor said he thrived under West's tutelage. But Victor said he has no intention of trying to duplicate his former mentor.
"Terrance did a great job and has big shoes to fill, but I don't want to be Terrance," Victor said. "I want to be Darrius. He's a great back, and he taught me a lot. I don't want to put it as trying to be Terrance West. I want to be myself. I have a great support staff. I feel like all the young guys are like myself. We all want to be on the same page and help the team win a national championship."