By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Schools such as Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas, Boston College, Maryland and Rutgers also extended scholarship offers. But to Joe Torchia, the clear choice was the University of Virginia.

UVa’s academic reputation appealed to Torchia the student. To Torchia the football player, the school’s selling point was obvious.

“It was named ‘Tight End U,'” Torchia said yesterday, “so what better place for a tight end?”

Throughout Al Groh’s tenure as coach, he’s featured that position. Chris Luzar, Heath Miller and Patrick Estes were gone by the time Torchia arrived at UVa in 2006, but standouts Jonathan Stupar, Tom Santi and John Phillips remained in the program.

“I figured I’d learn from the best,” recalled Torchia, who redshirted in ’06.

Stupar and Santi were seniors in 2007, and Phillips completed his eligibility last year. Torchia, a 6-6, 255-pound junior, now ranks as the most experienced tight end at UVa, and in years past that would have meant he could expect a lot of passes to be thrown his way. But Virginia has a new offensive coordinator, Gregg Brandon, and he’s installed a spread attack that won’t necessarily showcase the tight ends.

UVa tight ends combined for 45 receptions in 2005, 46 in 2006, 93 in 2007 and 51 last season. How prominent a role they’ll play this season is unclear.

“We’re going to play the best players,” Brandon said shortly after being hired at UVa. “If the tight ends are some of our best players, then we’ll find a place for them. At Bowling Green, we used a tight end quite a bit when we had one that was a pretty good player.

“It’s really a matter of if your tight end is as good as your fourth receiver, because we play with a lot of four-receiver sets. If the tight end is your second- or third-best receiver, or your best receiver, then we’re going to find a place to get him in there.”

Training camp starts tomorrow for the Wahoos, and the “whole team is excited about Coach Brandon and the new schemes he’s bringing,” Torchia said. “There’s an exciting kind of vibe around the team now. Everybody’s anxious to get to camp and get things working.”

Torchia, 21, is from Cold Spring, N.Y., not far from the U.S. Military Academy. As a redshirt freshman in 2007, he was Virginia’s No. 4 tight end and played primarily on special teams. (He had a 13-yard kickoff return against Virginia Tech). A season ago, a separated left collarbone limited Torchia to seven games, and Phillips was almost always the tight end to whom UVa quarterbacks threw.

And now, midway through his college career, Torchia has a distinction he wouldn’t mind shedding: He has yet to catch a pass for the Cavaliers. For a player who was so highly recruited, Torchia has produced few highlights thus far, but he’s not discouraged.

“It is humbling, but it kind of gives you the desire to get on the field,” he said. “It makes you hungry.”

Torchia said he’s not worried about how many catches he’ll make – or what his role will be – in Brandon’s offense.

“You want to help the team as best you can,” Torchia said. “That’s the real goal. Coach Brandon and Coach Groh, they’re going to find the best place for you do that.

“When you come to college, it’s not about what’s the best thing to help you individually, it’s about what’s the best thing to help the team.”

UVa’s returning players include only two tight ends: Torchia and Colter Phillips, a freshman who redshirted last season. Brandon has told the offense that, along with the quarterback and the five linemen, the “best five skill players will play,” Torchia said.

His goal, of course, is to be one of those five. Still, it’s “not really about the success of one person,” Torchia said. “It’s about the success of the team. If the team succeeds, I’ll succeed.”

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