By Jeff White
RICHMOND — Had a highlight video been produced of Dominique Terrell’s first season as a University of Virginia wide receiver, it would have consisted of two plays: his 27-yard reception for the winning touchdown in overtime against Idaho, and his 29-yard catch against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Terrell’s other six catches in 2011? They netted all of three yards.
“I had higher expectations,” Terrell said Saturday, and understandably so.
The 5-11 Terrell was one of the most celebrated members of the recruiting class that signed with UVa in February 2011, an All-Group AAA performer who rushed for 2,077 yards as a senior at Osbourn High in Manassas. At Osbourn, however, Terrell primarily played quarterback in 2010, and he struggled to learn the nuances of his new position at UVa. He also had trouble at times holding on to the ball.
He remains a work in progress, but on a splendid spring afternoon Terrell offered evidence Saturday that he’s ready for a larger role in coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense. Near the end of an open practice that drew about 2,200 fans to Sports Backers Stadium in Richmond, the Cavaliers scrimmaged, and starting quarterback Michael Rocco’s first two passes were to No. 2.
Terrell caught both, to the fans’ delight. He later dropped a pass from true freshman Greyson Lambert, but overall this has been a productive spring for Terrell.
“I’ve learned more about the offense,” he said. “The first year I had to get used to it, but now I’m understanding it.”
That’s not just talk, according to graduate assistant Marques Hagans, who coaches UVa’s wideouts. He sees a more confident Terrell this spring, and “it’s amazing what confidence can do for a player,” said Hagans, a former NFL wideout.
“I think it’s allowed him to play and develop toward who he can be as a college football player. And I think each day he’s continuing to get better, and you can just see his confidence growing each day.”
Terrell is growing in other ways. He played at about 160 pounds last season, he said, but now weighs around 170, and the added muscle should help him better handle the physical demands of the college game.
Three of UVa’s wideouts — Kris Burd, Matt Snyder and Ray Keys — were seniors last season, so Terrell figures to have ample opportunity to show his playmaking skills this fall. He heads into Saturday’s spring game at Scott Stadium as one of the team’s top three wideouts, along with junior Tim Smith and sophomore Darius Jennings.
“I think as long as he’s himself, the plays will come,” Hagans said. “He’s a good enough playmaker that, as long as he continues to work hard each day and get better, the things that he can generate with his ability by just being himself will be more than what we need.”
If Terrell has his way, he’ll make plays on special teams this fall, too. He spent much of the 2011 season as the Wahoos’ punt-returner, but Terrell appeared overwhelmed by the job at times, and special teams coordinator Anthony Poindexter turned to Chase Minnifield and Perry Jones late in the year.
Terrell returned 14 punts for 61 yards as a true freshman. His longest return was 13 yards. Often he seemed tentative in that role, unsure if he should try to catch punts in the air or let them bounce or call for a fair catch.
“I lost a little bit of confidence, dropping the ball and stuff, because I’d never done that,” Terrell said. “But now my confidence is back, so I’m going to be good.”
Poindexter said: “He went through some growing pains, and to the kid’s credit, he never blamed anyone else. He blamed himself. I know fans were getting a little impatient with me in trying to keep him back there, but I think this year we’ll reap the benefits of seeing the experience he had last year.”
Terrell said: “I’m more comfortable now. That was my first year back there catching punts, but now I’m used to it. Can’t be afraid of anything.”
He returned punts at Osbourn High, but that experience did little to prepare Terrell for what he encountered in the college game.
The biggest differences, he said, were “the height of the ball and how fast the defenders come down on the punt. It’s not like high school where they jog. They’re full-out sprinting and can cause you to fumble and stuff.”
Hagans, who excelled as a punt-returner for UVa, knows how difficult that job can be.
“I’ve been there,” Hagans said, “and I think the thing with him is he told me that all through high school, ‘I let the ball hit the ground first, and then I picked it up.’ So last year was really his first year catching the ball straight out of the air. So I went and talked to Dex about it and said, ‘We just gotta be patient with him.’ It was just a process.”
At Hampton High School, Hagans said, whenever he went back to return a punt, he tried to catch the ball in the air. “I wanted it,” he said with a smile Saturday. “I wanted to catch it and go. But I understand that last year was a learning curve [for Terrell] getting used to catching the ball.
“The thing was, behind the scenes Dex and I knew that we had something special. We just had to let [Terrell] go through a learning process. And the flak that he received and the criticism that he received only made him stronger, so it’s allowed his confidence to grow this year in the offseason.”
In the scrimmage Saturday in Richmond, Terrell cleanly fielded the only punt that came his way. The Cavaliers hope that’s a sign of things to come.
EXTRA POINTS: The Orange-Blue spring game will start at 2 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium. Gates open at noon, and fans will be able to take part in activities on the field until 1:15 p.m.
The event is free, but once the stadium gates open, fans will have an opportunity to buy game-worn UVa jerseys and helmets.
Nike jerseys worn by the ‘Hoos from 2001 to 2005, with numbers on the shoulders, will be available for $40 apiece. Nike jerseys worn from 2006 to 2009, with V-Sabres on the shoulders, are $75 apiece.
A limited number of navy helmets will be sold for $150 each. All items will be sold as-is and may have rips and marks on them. Cash and credit cards will be accepted, but no checks.
The merchandise will be sold under the scoreboard at the top of the hill inside the stadium.
Also, an autographed and framed Chris Long jersey will be auctioned off Saturday. Tickets are $5 each or three for $10.
There will be an autograph session with current players on the field after the game.