By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He’s been to dozens of football games at Scott Stadium since graduating from the University of Virginia, from which he has two degrees, but this one will be different for Matt Blundin.
Virginia (2-5, 1-2) hosts No. 5 Louisville (6-1, 4-1) in an ACC game Saturday at noon. At halftime, Blundin will be on the field for a ceremony in which he’ll become the 24th former UVA football player to have his jersey retired. He’ll also be honored with a plaque on the Legends’ Walk at the north end of Scott Stadium.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Blundin, 47, who’s in his first year as athletic director at Woodberry Forest in Madison County. “I know there are guys as deserving as me, or more deserving, for this award.”
On any list of elite two-sport athletes at Virginia, the 6-foot-7 Blundin would rank near the top.
Blundin, who grew up outside Philadelphia in Darby, Pennsylvania, came to UVA on a basketball scholarship in 1987. He was a four-year letterman in hoops, and as a sophomore in 1988-89 he started at forward on the Terry Holland-coached team that reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.
At Ridley High School, Blundin had been a three-sport star, and in his second year at UVA he joined head coach George Welsh’s football team. Then he waited his turn.
For three years Blundin backed up Shawn Moore, who’s considered the greatest quarterback in program history, before taking over as the starter as a graduate student in 1991.
That he was an integral part of the basketball team during that stretch helped, Blundin said this week.
“I was competing there and competing at practices with football,” Blundin recalled. “There was never any sense of anxiousness. I wanted to play, but I knew that Shawn was the guy.”
Moore, also a former UVA assistant coach, is now the director of community and inclusion, and associate director of admissions, at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, one of Woodberry Forest’s counterparts in the Prep League. Moore and Blundin saw each other recently in Richmond and reminisced about their college days.
“We had a great relationship,” Moore said. “We roomed together on the road.
“I love the guy. I’m very happy for him. This is a great honor for him.”
When his time finally came on the football field, in 1991, Blundin upheld the standards Moore had set. Blundin completed 135 of 224 passes for 1,902 yards and 19 touchdowns during the 1991 regular season, with no interceptions, and was named the ACC player of the year.
“That doesn’t happen without having so many great guys on that team, and a great system,” Blundin said. “It was just the right place at the right time for me.”
Gary Tranquill, then the Cavaliers’ quarterbacks coach, deserves credit too, Moore said.
“Matt and I both were fortunate to have Coach Tranquill,” Moore said. “Tranquill was the best thing to happen to us.”
A second-round pick of Kansas City in the 1992 NFL draft, Blundin still holds the NCAA record for most passes attempted without an interception in a season (224) and the UVA record for most consecutive passes without an interception (231).
“I’ve never been around anybody like that. Ever,” Welsh said Thursday. “I think there were a couple that could have been [intercepted] that were dropped, but only a couple.”
Blundin’s streak finally ended Dec. 29, 1991, when he threw a pick against Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl.
Welsh, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, will be honored Saturday at Scott Stadium, too. This marks the 25th anniversary of his selection as national coach of the year, for which he received the Bobby Dodd Trophy.
In Welsh’s 19 seasons as Virginia’s head coach, his teams won 134 games and two ACC titles. As impressive as that coaching record may be, when Blundin reflects on his time with Welsh, “I think the one thing that always stands out — and you hear every player say it, and it’s true — is that he was just so fair and consistent with everybody.
“He treated everyone the same. And I remember that. Because you’d walk down the hall and see him, and if he was going to say hi to me as the starting quarterback, he’d say hi to the guy next to me who was a walk-on.”
Blundin worked behind a talented offensive line in 1991, and his targets included wide receivers Tyrone Davis and Larry Holmes, tight end Aaron Mundy and tailback Terry Kirby.
Looking back, Blundin said, “you realize how good some of these guys were. Because in the moment they’re just your friends, and you’re playing with them, and it’s a lot of fun.”
It’s not often that a quarterback wins the starting job for the first time as a graduate student, but Blundin had proved himself as Moore’s backup.
“We had all the confidence in the world in him,” Welsh said. “He demonstrated it in practice.”
Blundin, who weighed around 230 pounds when he played, had “a good arm and was a good passer,” Welsh recalled. “And he was big. He was tough to bring down. Not that he was going to scramble and run for a long [gain], but at least to get out of trouble and get loose somewhere and get the ball off.”
Also an excellent student, Blundin earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1991. He then enrolled in a master’s program in teaching in the Curry School of Education. Blundin completed that degree in 1999, after his NFL career ended, and then started working for Albemarle County Public Schools.
As a fourth-year student, Blundin lived on the Lawn, which “was such an honor and such a kind of capstone for me in terms of my time [at UVA], because it was hard. It wasn’t a cakewalk for me academically. Being a math major was pretty tough, and playing two sports added to it.”
His experience at UVA, Blundin said, “was a cycle. It had its ups and downs, and when I first got to the University, I probably wasn’t as prepared academically coming in as a student as I could have been.
“So it was tough at the beginning, and over time I really fell in love with the University and the place. It’s just a great school and I’ve made some great friends.”
Blundin and his wife, Amy, have four children, all sons. The oldest, Ethan Blundin, graduated from Albemarle High School last spring and then joined the football team at UVA as a walk-on this summer.
“When I think back, what’s neat about it is I got to school on a scholarship that got me to a better place and to a great institution,” Matt Blundin said.
“Ethan got into UVA through his work in the classroom and got into the engineering school. After he got into the engineering school, that’s when he said, `Do you think I could walk on?’ That process was kind of the reverse of mine. I’m really happy for him, where he is and what he’s doing.”
Blundin has followed his former program primarily “as a fan, not as an alum,” he said. His father-in-law has had UVA football season tickets for many decades, “and that’s been a great connection for our family,” Blundin said. “So I’ve watched from afar, and I’ve really invested my life in education and my kids and all that.”
Since taking over as the Wahoos’ head coach in December, Bronco Mendenhall has invited former players to come back to Charlottesville and engage with the program. In early April, Blundin was among the alumni who returned to Grounds to meet the new coaching staff and watch a spring practice.
In part, Blundin said, Mendenhall was unfamiliar with the history of the program and “wanted to get a sense of it. But I think independent of that he’s just trying to create a new culture.”
Tony Bennett did the same thing after taking over as men’s basketball coach at UVA in the spring of 2009. Bennett, of course, has since returned Virginia to national prominence in hoops.
“It’s been nice,” Blundin said of the Cavaliers’ success in basketball. “Actually, the biggest thing about watching from afar or [in person] is seeing how Coach Bennett and the team act and the way they run their program. I love how they play. I love the style of basketball they play, but it’s more about how they all are as people.
“You can bring your kids to the game and say, `That’s how you need to act.’ To me as a young father in this area, growing up as a young father and bringing my boys up, having models like that for them to look at, that was one of the biggest things I appreciated when Coach Bennett got here.”
When he arrived in Charlottesville in 1987, Blundin admits, he would not have expected to still be living in Central Virginia nearly 30 years later.
“I was like every other 17-year-old, I couldn’t see beyond next year,” Blundin said, laughing. “But I look back on it, and it just seems natural. It’s been a great place to raise a family. The only downside is being far away from my family and friends in Philadelphia, but it’s been wonderful for our family to kind of grow up here.”
After 17 fulfilling years in the Albemarle County school system, first as a math teacher and then as an instructional coach, Blundin took on a new challenge at Woodberry Forest, a prestigious boarding school for boys. In addition to serving as AD, he teaches one section of calculus at Woodberry.
“Being here is a whole different ball of wax in terms of how the organization is run, but you still have to have the same skills,” Blundin said, “the people skills and problem-solving skills and ability to work together with teams all the time. It’s been great, a new adventure for us.”