By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On New Year’s Eve, the sellout crowd at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta included a strapping young man who had made the trip from Jesup, Ga., to see UVa play Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Greyson Lambert and his father, Drexel, watched one team with particular interest. Their seats were on the Cavaliers’ side of the field, six rows up, and “so I was able to see how they did things during the game on the sideline,” Greyson recalled Tuesday. “I was just watching everything basically, just looking at how they reacted to certain situations.”
When it comes to Virginia football, the 6-5, 213-pound quarterback is no longer a spectactor. Lambert, who completed his graduation requirements at Wayne County High School last month, moved into Faulkner dorm Sunday. He started classes at UVa today.
Strength-and-conditioning coach Evan Marcus’ winter program begins Monday, and Lambert will be lifting, running and sweating with Virginia’s returning players. Then comes spring practice, starting March 19.
“You hope it benefits him like it did David Watford and Daquan Romero last year,” Virginia coach Mike London said Monday. “You hope he gains an understanding of how to be a college student-athlete and, because of the position he plays, gets a grasp of the offense.”
For football players who graduate high school early, mid-year enrollment is no longer uncommon at UVa. When Will Hill started classes at the University in January 2009, he was the football program’s first mid-year enrollee since Ahmad Brooks in 2003. But Michael Strauss followed suit in January 2010, and Watford and Romero enrolled at this time last year.
“David and Daquan have done well,” London said. “Michael Strauss did well. Will Hill has done well. Hopefully we’re building a track record with these guys that’ll open opportunities for others.”
Lambert, who turns 18 next month, was eager to start early at UVa.
“It just gives you an advantage,” he said Monday at the McCue Center. “You get to go through spring practice. You get to meet all the guys and all the coaches and make friends with them. Also, you already know where everything is before the season starts. That way, when the season starts, it’ll be just a little less chaos. I’ll already have everything out of the way and a semester under my belt, and I’ll be able to go through all of the things that the players get to go through from now until then. I’ll get to see how an offseason works. I’ll get to talk with all the other first-years [this summer] and help them out too.”
Among the other schools to extend scholarship offers to Lambert were Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi State, Purdue and Cincinnati.
In late July, Lambert and his father visited several schools, among them LSU, Tennessee, Alabama, South Florida, Florida State and Florida. Then they traveled to Charlottesville to check out UVa. In early August, Lambert committed to the Cavaliers.
“After every visit, usually my dad and I would talk about all the good things and all the bad things, or the things that we didn’t necessarily like,” Lambert recalled, “and so we’d say, ‘It’s great, but this …” With Virginia, we kind of said it was great, and there wasn’t a ‘but.’ It has everything, from the football side of things to the academic side, and I just really couldn’t find anything wrong with it.”
The coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, won Lambert over during his unofficial visit.
“I felt wanted here,” Lambert said. “I got to meet some of the players and some of the staff, the academic staff. I wanted at the time to look into the business school, so they set up a meeting with one of the business professors. It was like everything that I talked to them about on the phone, they did their best to make happen [during the visit]. I feel like they’re all great Christian men that do things the right way.”
He figures to fill out under Marcus’ tutelage, but Lambert already looks the part of the prototypical pro-style quarterback. That’s one of the reasons he topped the Wahoos’ wish list for quarterbacks in the Class of 2012.
“He’s got the size,” London said, “and he’s a very mature young man, quiet, not overbearing. He knows what he wants to do. He wants to play great football, and he wants to get a great education, and he wants to play in a pro-style offense.”
Lazor, who also coaches UVa’s quarterbacks, is a former NFL assistant, and his background appealed to Lambert. “That’s my ultimate goal: to make it to the next level,” Lambert said. “I know it’s a big goal, but that’s what every kid wants whenever he goes to a college to play a sport.”
During Lambert’s visit over the summer, he met with Lazor at the McCue Center. “He talked about his prior NFL experience, and he showed me some clips on the screen,” Lambert said. “He would talk about a play and draw it up on the blackboard, and then he’d show me clips of NFL teams running it, along with Virginia [running it in 2010]. I thought that was really neat, how he did things.”
Strauss’ recent decision to transfer to the University of Richmond means UVa will have four scholarship quarterbacks during spring ball: Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Watford and Lambert.
Rocco, a rising junior, started every game for the ‘Hoos in 2011. Watford, his backup, appeared in 10 games. Metheny will be a redshirt junior in the fall.
In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which UVa lost 43-24, Rocco completed 26 of 41 passes for a career-high 312 yards and 2 touchdowns. He finished the season 222-of-366 passing for 2,671 yards and 13 TDs, with 12 interceptions.
“From the first game to the end of the season, it’s easy to see how much better he got throughout the whole season,” Lambert said. “He’s a great quarterback.”
The ‘Hoos finished 4-8 in 2010, their first season under London. To see them improve to 8-5 in 2011 made Lambert that much happier about his college choice, he said. UVa’s victims included ACC rivals Miami, FSU, Georgia Tech and Maryland.
“We always would record the games, and I think I watched the Georgia Tech game four or five times,” Lambert said, laughing. “Seeing us win the big games on national television, like the Miami game on Thursday night, where everybody’s watching because there’s nothing else on, it was big. It really made things even better, which was hard to believe.”
Jesup, in South Georgia, is about a 75-minute drive from Jacksonville, Fla. Wayne County High competes in Georgia’s AAAA classification. Lambert started seven games as a 10th-grader and then locked down the job in 2010 and ’11. Early in his high school career, however, he played behind Parker Welch, who later joined Georgia’s program as a recruited walk-on.
He would be fine redshirting this fall or playing as a true freshman, Lambert said, whichever UVa’s coaches prefer. He acknowledged, though, that he likes the idea of “being able to learn from Michael and the other quarterbacks that are already here, and kind of just watching them.”
That’s what he did with Welch, and it helped “just being able to sit behind him for a year and learn from him,” Lambert said. “I feel like it helps me a whole lot more knowing there’s a guy like Michael that’s already been through it, going to Tallahassee and playing Florida State and coming out with a ‘W,’ and being able to look at him and be able to learn from him that way.”
As a junior, Lambert threw 20 touchdown passes, with 12 interceptions. In 2011, on a team that finished 4-5-1, he threw 15 TD passes and seven picks. After his senior season, Lambert began training with Buddy Geis, a former college and NFL assistant coach.
Lambert recalls watching a TV special on Tom Brady’s development into an elite quarterback. Brady talked about his belief that, if he could improve in all the areas he was already proficient, “his running ability wouldn’t be as big a factor,” Lambert said. “If he can read defenses better than anybody else, if he can make the right calls at the line better than everybody else and all the right checks, then he shouldn’t really have to try to elude pressure. He’d be able to get the ball out in two seconds.”
He looks to Brady for inspiration, Lambert said. “I want to become a student of the game. That’s a big deal for me. And also to limit my mistakes, know what I’m supposed to do with the ball. Make all the right reads. I really want to get faster, but I know that I’m not ever going to run a 4.4 [in the 40-yard dash], most likely, so I’d like to become excellent in all the other areas.”