by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & rena football is, essentially, football drenched in caffeine. Players, fans and scoreboards work overtime to keep up with the rapid-fire scoring. Touchdowns and even first downs ignite celebrations bordering on orgy-like ecstasy.
Nick Davila loves the excitement of arena ball. Loves the rock-concert atmosphere at Spokane Shock home games. Loves to see teammates go just a little bit gonzo when the good times roll.
Davila, however, rarely permits himself the luxury of getting carried away on the field. In a sea of football mayhem, Davila is the commander of the ship that sails calmly from port to port -- or, in Davila's case, from the line of scrimmage to the end zone. Again and again and again and again and again...
"He's a quiet kid," Shock coach Adam Shackleford says about his rookie quarterback. "He doesn't say much, but he's certainly confident in his abilities. He's modest -- he's not a 'me' guy."
"That's just part of my personality," Davila (daah-VEE-law) says. "My dad has always trained me to be focused.
"He always said, 'When the great ones get big-time games, you've got to step up.' That's something he planted in my brain."
Davila never made his father prouder than on Nov. 18, 2006. Unbeaten, seventh-ranked Rutgers was the Cinderella story of college football when an injury paved the way for Davila -- a two-time junior college All-American who had spent most of his two years at Cincinnati on the bench -- to make his first start for the Bearcats. He passed for 277 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown pass, and ran for another score to lead Cincinnati to a stunning 30-11 win over the visiting Scarlet Knights.
"It was the sports highlight of my life," Davila says. "Just with all the things I was going through and my family being there, and it just happened to be Senior Night. It's the highest-ranked team we've ever beat in school history."
A week later, Davila was back on the bench, though he helped rally Cincinnati past Connecticut. That earned Davila the starting nod in his final college game, when he helped UC beat Western Michigan in the International Bowl.
Davila's own Cinderella story was interrupted when he was cut in rookie camp by the NFL's Cleveland Browns last year. Two failed tryouts with Arena Football League teams followed before Shackleford's old ties to Cincinnati (he grew up outside Cincinnati) led Davila to Spokane -- and, initially, more frustration.
Davila never touched the field in three of the Shock's first five games, and quarterback Jason Murrietta helped the Shock go 5-0. Shackleford, citing "a gut feeling," started Davila in the team's sixth game. Davila responded by throwing seven touchdown passes, and ever since, he has been the starter for the 17-1 Shock.
"It's a team effort, and that's the way I looked at it [before starting]," Davila says. "I was going to go and work hard every single day and do the best I can for all my teammates.
"At the same time, I wanted to be out there like anyone would. I just had the opportunity, and you have to take advantage of your opportunities in life.
"I'm not just talking about football; I'm talking about work and school. You have to take advantage of your opportunities because they're not going to be given to you. You have to take them."
Shackleford describes the 23-year-old Davila as "a great character person." The eldest of six children, Davila grew up east of Los Angeles in the affluent Alta Loma section of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. He credits his father and mother (a construction foreman and junior high school teacher, respectively) and grandmothers for emphasizing the importance of education, hard work and family values.
Davila, the first to admit his arm is more accurate than powerful, has thrown five touchdown passes in each of Spokane's two playoff wins. During the regular season, the southpaw nailed 67 percent of his passes for 2,935 yards, a club-record 66 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in 13 games.
"He doesn't make a lot of mistakes," says Shock linebacker Kevin McCullough, a teammate of Davila at Cincinnati. "He takes care of the football, he makes great decisions and he finds ways to win."
Several AFL teams have taken notice. Davila says he benefits from working with arena-ball offensive gurus Shackleford and Matt Sauk (the Shock quarterbacks coach). They're part of the reason that Davila says "it's probably the best decision I ever made" to come to Spokane to gain pro experience.
That said, Davila is eager to make the jump to the AFL next year -- for professional and personal reasons. You see, the money's a lot better in the AFL, and Davila says a lack of cash is all that has prevented him from marrying Jessica Mancinai, his girlfriend for nearly eight years.
Thank goodness Davila is quicker at making a pass than a proposal.
Spokane Shock vs. Amarillo Dusters on Saturday, Aug. 16, at 7 pm at the Spokane Arena in the National Conference finals of the arenafootball2 league. No TV; KEYF 101.1 FM. Tickets: $9-$55. Call 325-SEAT. Saturday's winner advances to the ArenaCup title game on Monday, Aug. 25 (Spokane would host).