Aug. 12, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Early this summer, UVa football coach Mike London promised that he and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild would move quickly to choose a starting quarterback once training camp began.
Virginia opens the season Aug. 31 against BYU at Scott Stadium. UVa hosts Oregon there Sept. 7.
London and Fairchild met with both Watford and Lambert on Sunday night. Another redshirt freshman, Matt Johns, is the No. 3 quarterback. True freshman Brendan Marshall, the only other scholarship QB on the roster, is expected to redshirt this season.
The coaches reached their decision after the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage of training camp, Saturday night at Lambeth Field.
Watford “was probably a little ahead, and just played well Saturday,” Fairchild said on a teleconference Monday afternoon. “They all played well. I thought all three quarterbacks [did] some good things. But David protected the ball and didn’t take a sack and got us into the right protections a few times, got us into the right runs a few times. His overall play I thought was good, and then, like I said, when we decided to sit and visit about it, it just was apparent: He’s the guy that’s going to start the opener.”
That the 6-2, 200-pound Watford won the job is no surprise. Not only is he the most mobile of the Wahoos’ quarterbacks, he’s the only who has taken a snap in a college game. Watford came out of spring practice leading the 6-5, 220-pound Lambert and has not relaxed his hold on the job during training camp.
“It’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s played in a college football game, and at the quarterback spot that is important,” Fairchild said. “Yes, that was a factor.”
Watford, after graduating early from Hampton High School, enrolled at UVa in January 2011. He played in 10 games that fall, backing up starter Michael Rocco. Rather than waste a year of Watford’s eligibility, UVa’s coaches redshirted him in 2012, when Rocco and Phillip Sims split the QB duties. Rocco and Sims have since left the program.
Lambert, who’s from Jesup, Ga., enrolled at the University in January 2012 and redshirted last season.
“Greyson’s been here for two spring practices, and that’s been to his advantage as well,” London said on a teleconference Monday morning, “but I just think David’s a little bit ahead of him in terms of being able to go on the field in the game and direct our team, particularly what we’re planning on doing this year in our offensive scheme.”
Watford would rather have played last season, but he didn’t complain about the coaches’ decision to redshirt him.
Asked early this month about his experience in 2012, Watford said it taught him about “being in adverse situations and just being able to fight and not quit on my team, not quit on myself. I felt like I really became a better teammate by just continuing to fight and just continuing, even when I was being redshirted, to come out and practice hard and give the defense a good look, just to give them the best possible situation to prepare them for game day.”
He never seriously considered transferring to another school, Watford said. “When I wasn’t playing, at first I was kind of thinking, `What am I going to do? How am I going to fight this out?’ But that’s what I learned about myself. If I put it in my mind that I was going to do it, I was going to stay. I told Coach London I wanted to stay and that I wanted to continue to battle, so that’s what I did.”
As a true freshman, Watford completed only 30 of 74 passes (40.5 percent) for 346 yards, and he threw more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (three). But he’s studied countless hours of videotape since then and worked tirelessly to hone his skills. His teammates and coaches say he’s much improved this year, and Watford has emerged as one of the Cavaliers’ leaders, a voice respected inside and outside the locker room.
“What we’ve seen is just the overall development and the maturation process that David has gone through,” London said. “It’s been really nice and really neat to watch David and watch him develop.”
In 2011, when Bill Lazor was the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator, Watford carried only 21 times (including two plays on which he was sacked) for 42 yards. Lazor left UVa in January to become the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks coach. His successor as coordinator, Fairchild, is expected to try to make better use of Watford’s speed and quickness.
“David does have a skill set that allows us to do some things,” London said.
In the end, though, “I think this decision was based just more on his overall development,” London said.
In Lazor’s final two seasons as offensive coordinator, the Cavaliers often alternated quarterbacks during games. The plan this season is to choose a starter and stick with him.
Lambert was disappointed to not win the starting job, but he’ll support Watford, London said, and “know that he’s just a play away from going in the game.”