Q&A with Mikell Simpson
by Carlos Valle
Junior tailback Mikell Simpson gives UVa’s offense a dynamic player who can create big plays as a runner and pass catcher. Last season he burst on the scene with his standout performance at Maryland and capped the year with a career-best 170-yard rushing effort in the Gator Bowl.
Simpson and the Cavaliers will hold the annual Spring Football Festival April 12 at Scott Stadium. Gates open at noon for pre-game activities and the Spring Game is slated to start at 2 p.m
Question: You were a big part of Virginia’s success during the second half of the season. How do you plan to build on that success this season?
Simpson: With Cedric (Peerman) coming back I feel as though that will take a load off the running game. We also have Kevin (Ogletree) coming back and he should be able to help stretch the defense. I feel as though defenses are going to have to play honest against us this year instead of like last year when they put eight or nine men in the box. We had a great line to figure things out and pick up on it. Now we have a lot of new guys up front so we just need to take it slow and work with them and once we all get on the same page I think it’s going to be something special.
Question: You lost a lot of key senior players this season but all of the running backs are coming back. Talk about the versatility of the Virginia running game and how important that is.
Simpson: I feel as though our versatility helps wear a defense down. When you have a group of different guys like that and being able to switch between then, a defense never really knows what to expect. They really have to prepare for three different backs with three different styles. At the same time, we’re evolving in the passing games too so they really can’t just focus on the run. I feel as though that’s a huge advantage for us.
Question: Tight ends have always been a big part of the receiving core at Virginia. This year, without star Tom Santi and Jon Stupar, do you see yourself getting more receptions during the games?
Simpson: Joe Torchia has been putting in a lot of work and I feel as though he is ready to step in alongside John Phillips. I feel as though we’ll be solid at tight end. Of course, the running backs will be a part of the passing game like they are every year. It’s just a matter of the plays working out as best as they can. Pete (Lalich) is going to be in there and he is a great passer. We depend on him a lot and have a lot of confidence in him.
Question: The team lost a few offensive linemen including Branden Albert, which directly affects you and the rushing game. What is it going to be like adjusting to a new set of blockers up front?
Simpson: Branden was a big loss and anytime you lose three or four guys up front it’s a big loss. But our new guys are taking full advantage of their opportunities and getting ready for spring ball. They take great notes. I actually looked over their notebooks and they have five or six pages already. They’ve been watching a lot of film and we also have walk-through drills in practice, which gives them a chance to slow things down and actually see what’s going on. Then when we pick up the speed they can adjust easily. I have confidence that they will be great by the time the season rolls around.
Question: Entering into your senior season, what has been your most memorable moment with this football program?
Simpson: It was beating Miami down there. We closed the Orange Bowl out and we won 48-0. They really haven’t been beaten like that and just to be a part of it was special.
Question: What do you want to get out of this season or what are you most excited for?
Simpson: I’m looking forward to another chance to play for the ACC championship and of course opening the season up with USC. A lot of teams don’t play their first game of the season against a team like that. For me personally, I want to step up in the pass protection and just hold on to the ball.
Question: Virginia opens the season against a very powerful USC team. What are your expectations for a game like that?
Simpson: All games are equal and basically the same. You just have to base it upon your opponent and know who they are. We’ve been posting little things about USC and their record over the last six or seven years. So it’s kind of in our head right now. We’re getting everyone’s mindset ready.
Question: What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Simpson: I have a snake.