By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — More than two years have passed since E.J. Scott worked up a serious sweat in a football game — an eternity for a young player — and UVa’s 2012 opener is still nearly five months away.
“But I’m finally back out here now,” Scott said Saturday, and that represents progress for the 5-11, 185-pound wide receiver, whom UVa fans can check out Saturday afternoon in the Orange-Blue spring game at Scott Stadium.
A graduate of Good Counsel High in Olney, Md., Scott redshirted at UVa in 2010, as did most members of his recruiting class. He went into 2011 expecting to carve out roles at wideout and on special teams, but his health did not cooperate.
Mononucleosis sidelined Scott for the first two games last season. He played against North Carolina and Southern Mississippi, then got ill again and missed the rest of the regular season.
After having his tonsils taken out, Scott worked himself back into shape and was cleared to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The coaching staff, however, chose not to use him against Auburn.
And so ended a season in which Scott caught no passes. His statistical contribution in 2011: four kickoff returns for 97 yards, with a long of 29.
“Last season was rough, but that’s in the past,” Scott said Saturday after UVa’s practice at Sports Backers Stadium in Richmond. “I’m just looking ahead. I’ve developed a lot this spring, so I feel good about everything.”
At Good Counsel, which has one of the D.C. area’s premier high school football programs, Scott totaled 13 touchdown receptions in his final two seasons and also starred at defensive back. Virginia’s coaches like what they’ve seen of No. 84.
“Every time E.J. has been healthy and practiced consistently, he’s shown his ability,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday. “But his problem is, whether it be sickness or injury or all different reasons, he hasn’t been able to be out there for a whole session. Every time he’s come on, though, he’s looked good. Every time he’s been a consistent practice participant, we’ve said, ‘Hey, there are things right there that look like this guy’s got a chance to play for us.’
“He’s improved a lot as far as his catching. When E.J. first came in, we thought that was one thing he needed to do. Right now he’s been healthy for the spring, so it’s probably the best he’s been moving around and the most consistent. But typically that’s what practicing does for you.”
Of the six wideouts who had at least five receptions apiece for the Wahoos last season, three were seniors: Kris Burd, Matt Snyder and Ray Keys. This spring, the reps have been divided mainly among five receivers: junior Tim Smith and sophomores Scott, Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell and Miles Gooch.
Smith had 33 catches for 565 yards and three TDs last season. Jennings caught 20 passes for 238 yards and a TD, and Terrell had eight receptions for 59 yards and a TD.
Scott can’t match those numbers — at least not yet — but he too may figure prominently into the Cavaliers’ passing game this fall.
“I think E.J. has a special talent as well,” said graduate assistant Marques Hagans, who coaches UVa’s wide receivers, “and his ability to keep himself healthy and be able to practice every day shows what he can do when he’s on the field each day, and I’m proud of him.”
Scott, who lives in Ellicott City, Md., also is in the mix as a kick-returner, along with Jennings and sophomore Khalek Shepherd, among others.
“It just feels good to be back,” Scott said. “It was unfortunate I was out for a while, but I had a great offseason with [strength-and-conditioning coach Evan Marcus].
“I’m healthy and I feel better than ever now, so it’s good to be a contributor and be part of the team.”
The most celebrated members of the recruiting class that signed with UVa in February 2011 included Jennings and Terrell, and the coaching staff made clear they would play as true freshmen. Still, Scott said Saturday, he didn’t worry last season that they had permanently supplanted him on the depth chart at receiver.
“It’s always hard to be sitting on the sideline and not competing,” Scott said. “It’s always a bad feeling. But Jennings and Terrell are great guys, and they bring a lot to the group, so we all push each other, and I’m glad to have them in our receiving corps with us.”
Scott, whose given name is Earl, said he learned much from team’s veterans last season.
“Even when I wasn’t playing, I was still in the meetings, and that made me focus more on the playbook and the meetings,” Scott said. “This time around I’m not really thinking too much about the plays or getting lined up. It’s just kind of second nature, so I feel like I’m playing a lot faster than I was last year.”
EXTRA POINTS: The spring game will start shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday. Gates at Scott Stadium open at noon, and fans will be able to take part in activities on the field until 1:15 p.m. The team will conduct pre-game warm-ups and several drills starting at 1:30 p.m.
The event is free.
Once the 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.