By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Wide receiver E.J. Scott is no longer the only football player wearing No. 84 at UVa.
Jeremiah Mathis has a new position and a new jersey number at Virginia. In the wake of starting tight end Joe Torchia’s season-ending shoulder injury, Mathis, at the coaching staff’s request, has switched sides.
“I’m in tight end meetings now, and I’m sitting on the offensive side of the room [in team meetings],” Mathis said Wednesday morning. “It’s still kind of weird.”
Mathis said he expects to return to defensive end in 2011. For now, though, the 6-3, 255-pound redshirt freshman is the Cavaliers’ No. 3 tight end, behind sophomores Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman. (Head coach Mike London wants to redshirt true-freshman tight ends Zach Swanson and Jake McGee).
“I think it’s a great move,” Mathis said. “I just felt it was a good way for me to help out the team. Coach London always talks about being a family, and this is a way for me to help out my brothers.”
The position isn’t new to Mathis, and neither is the jersey number he donned this week, 84. That’s what this Bowie, Md., resident wore at DeMatha High, where in 2008 he was the Stags’ only two-way starter.
At tight end, Mathis said, he had about 20 receptions, including two touchdown catches, as a senior.
“I think he can definitely help us at the position,” said Scott Wachenheim, who coaches UVa’s tight ends. “His size and power and work ethic are all things that in my mind make him a guy who can be a really good tight end down the road.”
Who knows? Perhaps Mathis and the coaching staff will decide at season’s end, Wachenheim said, that Mathis should remain with the offense.
For now, Wachenheim said, he simply wants Mathis “to give his best effort every day. What we’re going to do is throw as much at him, see what sticks, see what he’s able to do well. Hopefully, what he can do grows every week.”
Mathis auditioned at tight end in practice last Thursday and impressed the coaching staff with his feet, his hands and his explosiveness.
“I can tell he played the position [in high school],” Wachenheim said.
Mathis said his “heart is on the defensive side,” but he’s excited about this unexpected opportunity.
Through the first five games of the season, he played little as the backup to junior defensive end Cam Johnson, another former standout in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Johnson, a Gonzaga High graduate, leads the Cavaliers in sacks with 4.5.
Mathis is a talented pass-rusher, too, and, assuming he returns to defense, could well replace Johnson in the starting lineup in 2012. Mathis’ immediate concern, though, is his new role at UVa.
The biggest challenge for Mathis, Wachenheim said, is “the amount of information that he has to grasp. it’s like getting a drink of water out of a fire hydrant. The other kids have had a whole spring and a whole two-a-day fall camp and five ball games and five game-week preparations to learn the information. Where he’s getting a complete game plan this week in just three days.”
UVa (0-2, 2-3) hosts ACC rival North Carolina (1-1, 3-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium.
Mathis could play against UNC, but don’t expect to see the Wahoos’ other No. 84, on the field. Scott, a true freshman from Ellicott City, Md., is redshirting this season.