Spring of second chances at Virginia

April, 16, 2009
4/16/09
4:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In order to get home from the McCue Center, where the Virginia football team practices, quarterback Jameel Sewell must pass Scott Stadium -- a place he hasn't played in since 2007.

"I can look right down into the stadium every time I pass it and I get a chill," he said.

For three Virginia quarterbacks, this spring has been all about second chances.

Sewell, the Cavaliers' 2007 starter who learned a hard lesson from last year's academic suspension, has been given another chance to reassert himself as the leader of the offense. Marc Verica, who was thrust into the role in mid-September after Peter Lalich was dismissed from the team, is looking to redeem himself from a poor finish down the stretch. And senior Vic Hall, who was a standout high school quarterback but spent the past two seasons as a starting corner and is the Cavs' leading returning tackler, has been given the opportunity to play the position he originally thought he would.

All three quarterbacks began the spring on an even playing field in first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon's new scheme, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the spring game, they'll showcase their progress to the public for the first time.

 
  Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
  Quarterback Jameel Sewell is happy to be competing for the Cavaliers' starting job after missing the 2008 season.

"Marc Verica did a pretty decent job last year," Sewell said. "He needed some help, he couldn't do everything by himself. He's out here competing like he should, and he's done a great job so far. And you've got Vic Hall, who's got all the state records as a quarterback in high school and it seems like coming back to offense hasn't missed a beat. And me, I'm just trying to keep up. I've been gone for a while, but I'm not at a disadvantage at all. This is a new offense, and things are different now."

That's the hope at least in Charlottesville for a program that finished last season 5-7 overall and won just three games in the ACC. The Cavaliers ended 2008 with four straight losses, resulting in a major staff overhaul that included coach Al Groh firing his son, Mike Groh, as offensive coordinator.

In the years that Groh has been successful, though, he tends to have a dependable, experienced quarterback.

"It's picked up some momentum here in the last few practices as we anticipated might be the case, given it was going to take a while for the quarterbacks to get some continuity in what they were going," Groh said. "... Given that two of the three primary candidates were not full-time quarterbacks last year -- Jameel and Vic -- it's really been a case of those guys getting back in rhythm as quarterbacks per say, plus a new system. Marc obviously had playing time last year, but (is in) a new system. So it's taken a little while, but Monday showed some real signs of it picking up."

Sewell started all 13 games in 2007 and led Virginia to a 9-4 record and an appearance in New Year's Day bowl game. He's a shifty runner who passed for 2,176 yards and ran for 279 more that year. Verica is more of a drop back passer who made his first start last fall in the third game against Connecticut. He went on to start nine of the final 10 games and threw for 2,037 yards while completing 63.8 percent of his attempts. He threw eight touchdown passes, though, and 16 interceptions.

Verica attributed a lot of that to the fact it was the first season he had played, and said this offense requires a lot from the quarterback. It is designed to create space, spread the defense out, and creates better angles for linemen to block, and more space for running backs and wide receivers to operate.

"It's a dynamic offense, so we can attack a defense with the quarterback running the ball, we can attack the defenses with short passes, long passes, screens," he said. "There's a number of things, but I really think he's just looking for a leader to manage the team out there. ... Jameel and Vic are obviously more talented athletes and runners than I am. I am able to do some of that, too. I really think the offense plays to all our strengths."

Sewell said he's more responsible now, and he's learned from his mistakes. He helped coach at Charlottesville High school last season, but kept a close watch on the Cavaliers, some of whom he remained roommates with. When Sewell walked back on the field at Virginia for the first time this spring, he said he was overwhelmed, and didn't want to leave -- not practice, not film sessions, not the weight room.

"I just didn't want it to end, even though I knew it was going to happen again the next day," he said.

Hall, who was a record-setting quarterback at Gretna Senior High School, said he spent this spring readjusting to the technique and fundamentals, and he's had to build the strength in his throwing arm. In his surprise appearance at quarterback against Virginia Tech last year, Hall rushed for 109 yards and had scoring runs of 40 and 16 yards. He only threw one pass, though, and is a bit undersized at 5-foot-9.

Hall said he was told in mid-January that he'd move to quarterback full time for the spring - the position he thought he had originally come to Charlottesville to play. Instead, he developed into a successful corner over the past two seasons. His five forced fumbles last year tied the school record and he had 59 tackles.

"The main thing that I wanted to prove coming to college is that I can work hard and help my team in anyway," Hall said. "It wasn't about proving to people I could do this or that, because whatever you do on the field as far as helping your team and making a contribution, I feel like that's proof in itself. But yeah, I do look at this as a second chance to be what I aspired to be when I came to Virginia -- a quarterback."

Hall's not the only one.

"I've always tried to move on to the next play and forget," Verica said. "When you hang onto those things in your mind, it just wears on you. You're not going to play as well. You have to have a very short memory if you want to play this position. There's going to be some adverse times, and you have to put those behind you and rise above. The challenge for me is to that behind me and move forward."

This spring, all three quarterbacks got a second chance to do that.

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