CHARLOTTESVILLE – When practice ends for the University of Virginia football team, the various position groups often stick around for extra work. During those sessions, it becomes clear that Marques Hagans, who coaches the Cavaliers’ wide receivers, still has it as a passer.
Hagans starred at quarterback for UVA in 2004 and ’05, and he gets to relive those days while his receivers hone their route-running skills.
“I think it creates a connection with the players, especially in my group, just having a chance to toss the ball with them sometimes in practice,” said Hagans, who also played wideout at UVA and in the NFL.
Hagans oversees a talented group that includes seniors Olamide Zaccheaus and Ben Hogg, juniors Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois, sophomores De’Vante Cross, Terrell Jana and Cole Blackman, and true freshmen Tavares Kelly, Billy Kemp, Ugo Obasi and Wooby Theork-Youmans.
In 2017, when the Cavaliers advanced to a bowl for the first time since 2011, Zaccheaus caught 85 passes – a single-season school record – for 895 yards and five touchdowns. He also carried the ball 27 times for 182 yards and one TD.
“He’s the alpha male of the group, by hard work, consistency, commitment, dedication,” Hagans said.
Reed had 23 receptions for 244 yards and two TDs in 2017, and he rushed 21 times for 113 yards and another score. His role in the offense is expected to grow this season, and so is that of Dubois, a 6-3, 210-pound possession receiver.
As a sophomore last year, Dubois caught 16 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown. He also had periods of immaturity that frustrated the coaching staff. So far in training camp, though, Dubois has carried himself well, on and off the field.
“I think he’s had a really good offseason,” Hagans said. “He’s cut down some weight, he’s focused in on his diet, and he’s been more locked in in meetings. He’s taken the approach to prepare to give himself an opportunity to have a really good season. He’s just got to continue to be consistent each day and trust the process of all the little things. With him, it’s all about the little things. If he continues to do the little things right he’ll have a chance to have a really good season for us.”
The Wahoos practiced Thursday evening at historic Lambeth Field. Afterward, Dubois talked about the progress he’s made.
“I’m going into my third year,” he said. “I took a lot of things for granted my first two years, and this year I just matured up, and every chance I get I’m making the best of every opportunity and just trying to capitalize on everything.”
Cross might be the most intriguing member of the receiving corps. At 6-2, 200 pounds, he’s a big, strong, fast athlete who as a redshirt freshman last year worked at three positions: quarterback, wideout and cornerback.
He’s a full-time receiver this year.
“It’s a lot different,” Cross said. “I can really start to focus on the ins and outs of the position and really pay attention to it, and knowing every day that I’m going to be doing the same thing is really helpful.
“I’m starting to get the basics, but I’ve got a long way to go. I’m working with Coach every day and working with my teammates. They’re all helping me, and every day I just learn more and more about the position.”
In 2017, Cross caught one pass, for 8 yards, and at quarterback rushed five times for 27 yards. On defense, he made three tackles. Having to learn three positions was challenging, but Cross was eager to help the Cavaliers at positions where they lacked depth.
“I just wanted to play and see the field,” he said, “and it was a great experience being out there.”
At 6-1, 185 pounds, Jana is another big target for quarterback Bryce Perkins. The Woodberry Forest graduate caught two passes for 21 yards as a true freshman last year.
“I really am excited to see what the season holds for him, because all spring, all offseason, he’s done exactly what’s been asked of him,” Hagans said. “He’s never flinched. He hasn’t backed down from any challenge that’s been issued to him.”
Of the newcomers, the 5-9, 165-pound Kelly has created the loudest buzz during training camp – largely because of his speed. He’s run the 100-meter dash in 10.49 seconds.
The 6-1, 180-pound Obasi is “a big, physical receiver, and he can run, and he has good hands,” Hagans said.
With the freshman receivers, Hagans said, the coaching staff will keep things simple “until they can prove to us that they know what they’re supposed to know and we have the confidence to put ’em in the game. But those guys, they’ll be in contention to compete for playing time right away. They’ve got to earn it, but if they can prove that they can be consistent, we’ll find ways to get them on the field.”