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Aug. 14, 2010
10:28 a.m.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — As UVa’s football team prepares for its first preseason scrimmage, Colter Phillips is never far from his teammates’ and coaches’ thoughts.

Phillips left Charlottesville to join his family this week after a plane crash killed his father, Bill Phillips, in Alaska. Colter’s brother Willy, 13, was among those survived the crash.

“It’s been a tough week for us, because of Colter Phillips and the loss of his father,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “But I tell you what: Our team has rallied around him and his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

Before he left in January 2008 to become head coach at the University of Richmond, where he spent two seasons, London was UVa’s defensive coordinator. His recruiting territory included the D.C. area, where Phillips, a graduate of Georgetown Prep, grew up.

“I started out recruiting Colter when I was here [before], and it’s always tough when things like this happen to young men,” London said. “But I can tell you that our players have really rallied around him, and it’s been such a tremendous show of support from our guys, and we want just to continue to hold and keep Colter and his family up. Because it’s a good family, they’re good people, so we appreciate everybody else’s thoughts and prayers for him as he goes through this.”

Phillips has been texting teammates, especially his fellow tight ends, with whom he has “a very close relationship,” London said. “It’s private correspondence between them, but one thing he said was, ‘You guys are my family. I can’t wait to get back to my second family.’ I know he’s taking care of things right now with his immediate family, and our hearts are out with him.”

* Virginia opens the season Sept. 4 against Richmond at Scott Stadium. Fifth-year senior Marc Verica, barring an unforeseen turn of events, will be the Wahoos’ starting quarterback against the Spiders.

Verica is the only quarterback in London’s program who has played in a college game. Moreover, he’s played well in training camp, which continues with a scrimmage Saturday afternoon.

“I think Marc has done a nice job in terms of just already having a starting point where he was advanced over some of these other guys,” London said, “and then taking the starting point and expanding his knowledge of [new coordinator Bill] Lazor’s offense — understanding coverages, pre-snap reads, the throw that he has to make.

“A couple days ago, he threw one up that was intercepted, and he immediately was like, ‘I never should have made that throw.’ OK, the learning point is now the next time you’re in that situation, throw that thing out of bounds. Or, the next time you get a read like that, trust the experience that you’ve already had and make the right throw and the right decision. That’s something a veteran guy can give you. It’s something that we’re trying to accelerate from the other quarterbacks, to even get to the point where you can recognize those things getting ready to happen to you.”

Verica started nine games in 2008 but played little last year. If he can “get the ball to our playmakers and distribute it the way that we have planned for them, I think we can be OK,” London said. “We can be efficient enough to compete in all our games. That’s the big challenge.”

Those playmakers include Kris Burd, Dontrelle Inman and Tim Smith, who have separated themselves from the other wide receivers, and tight end Joe Torchia, who missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery.

“He’s what [big-time tight ends] look like,” London said of Torchia, who had 15 catches for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns last season.

Jeff White

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