SAN DIEGO — Davis Webb was being cheated and, actually, that was just fine by him.
The Texas Tech sophomore was surrounded by 15 other college QBs while spending a week training with private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield in Southern California. Towards the end of every session, Whitfield would divide the quarterbacks into teams for a throwing competition of some sort.
The coach noticed that Webb, a record-setting Big 12 freshman last season, always would position himself to go last so he could bat clean-up and impact the outcome of the competition. Whitfield also noted that Webb’s teams, no matter who else he was paired with, won.
By later in the week, Whitfield had a few instances where Webb’s team had such a big lead going into the final round of throws, they couldn’t be overtaken. So the coach would revamp the scoring system, just so he could make things more interesting.
"His teammates were barking at me," Whitfield said. "Davis tells them to shut up. ‘That’s all good.’ Then slaps the ball, makes the throw and they still win by one. He did it in the next competition we had, where his team was leading and before we started the last round, he just looks at me and goes, ‘Nah, do that thing.’" Whitfield again tweaked the format, and Webb again won.
Webb’s “thing,” it turns out, was thriving under pressure.
Texas Tech fans have already figured that out, though. Webb earned Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP honors last season after carving up No. 14 Arizona State for 403 passing yards and four TDs in a 37-23 romp. That performance came at the end of a chaotic first season at Tech that was low-lighted by an illness that caused Webb to go from 212 pounds down to 168 in about three days — 10 days before the opener against SMU.
"It just happened out of nowhere," he said, adding that he was vomiting "and everything." He missed one practice, but the thought of losing out on the starting job "killed" him, so he tried to grit through it and says he found himself bent over, gasping for air after every throw.
"All of sudden I looked at my weight and it said 202,” Webb said. “The next thing I knew I was in the 180s and then the next day I was down to 168. My headaches were going crazy. I couldn’t eat anything. I was tired. I missed the first week of school. By the SMU game, I had six IVs and I was back up to about 179."
“They couldn’t pinpoint what it was," said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. "That’s what’s crazy about it."
While Webb tried to battle through his health issues and regain his strength, fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield shined, throwing for seven TDs and almost 800 yards in the Red Raiders’ first two games. Tech opened the season 7-0 before sputtering to a five-game losing skid as Webb and Mayfield battled for the starting job.
"It was rough," Webb said. "I worked so hard so I could graduate early. I made a point I was going to start as a freshman against the other competitor I had, Michael Brewer. He got hurt, so I kind of assumed I was the guy. Maybe I got a little bit too big-headed. Then, I got humbled by the fact that I got sick and Baker did good.
"My dad is a coach. I give him all the credit in the world. He kept telling me all these stories about Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and dealing with adversity. I found all these similarities we had. I had adversity and you see all these guys transferring nowadays. They quit if it’s too hard. The grass is always greener. Well, it’s green where you water it. I felt Coach Kingsbury would maximize my potential and if it didn’t happen right away, so be it. But I know it’s gonna finish the right way."
Said Kingsbury, "I know when he wasn’t named the starter last year it was hard on him, and he wanted to prove me wrong. He took that attitude and used it, and worked tirelessly and almost maniacally to get to that point."
Kingsbury named Webb the starter for the bowl game, and that win gave the program a jolt of momentum into 2014 — although it also prompted Mayfield and Brewer to transfer out of the program. Despite all the back-and-forth on the field, Webb said he and Mayfield, now at Oklahoma, are very good friends.
"I took him out to dinner when he told me he was leaving," Webb said. "I was the first one to know. That was a really good dinner. He came to Lubbock two weeks ago before school let out. We stay in contact and both texted each other good game after our spring games."
Since his weight loss scare back in August, Webb has continued to bulk up. On his trip to San Diego in late May, he was up to 216 pounds and looking like he’s ready to become the next great Red Raider QB.
While in California, Webb continued to work on sitting down in his base and becoming more of a total body passer. Webb also was diligent in polishing his footwork operating from under center, something he doesn’t get to do too much of in the Tech offense. "Coach always tells me every single day that our goal for me is to have a chance to leave in three years, which entails five- and seven-step drops and getting better at that," Webb said.
“He has a chance to be very special," Kingsbury said. "He has one of the quickest releases and strongest arms I’ve been around. Very smart, intellectual thinker. Processes things very quickly. Sees the field. Great at checking to the right place. He probably had the best spring I’ve ever been around as far as protecting the football and making plays in our scrimmages. In our live scrimmages, [he had] 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions, which was a huge step from where he was last year.
“That’s the main thing we asked him to work on: You can’t make those negative plays. Last year he threw for a ton of yards, made a bunch of great plays, especially for a true freshman, but two or three times during a game he’d make plays you just can’t make against upper-level competition. This spring he took that to heart and did a great job of improving upon that.
“I think he’s one of those top-5 pick talents with his arm strength and his mind and his size, and how athletic he is for being 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds."
The relationship between the 34-year-old coach and his budding star is a unique one for college football. Kingsbury not only played the same position as Webb but played it at the same college, and it wasn’t all that long ago.
"So, he knows how the girl situation is, how it is on campus, how it is when you go out at night, how it is to get booed, how it is to get cut (from an NFL team)," Webb said. "He’s had every experience you can have as a quarterback.
"We just had an instant connection. We’re both coaches’ kids. Grinders. We’re about the same height. Not many colleges really recruited us. We’ve become closer this year through the Baker situation, through the Brewer situation. Now he’s my best friend. I’m so thankful I get to play for him."
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.