By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – As excited as his coaches are about the potential of Bryce Perkins, Virginia’s new starting quarterback, they’re also realistic. Perkins, who graduated from high school in 2015, has yet to play in a game at the major-college level.
At Arizona State, he redshirted in 2015 and then missed the following season with an injury. In June 2017, he transferred to Arizona Western College. He led the Matadors to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship last season and then enrolled at UVA in January.
The 6-3, 210-pound junior has impressed in his 36 practices with the Cavaliers – 15 in the spring, 21 this month – but he remains unproven as an FBS quarterback. He’ll make his first start at this level Saturday at Scott Stadium.
At 6 p.m., Virginia hosts Richmond, an FCS power, in the season opener for both teams.
“As much as any coach would like to say they know exactly where they are and what to expect in Game 1, I don’t think anyone knows exactly what to expect,” UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday during his press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.
“The bottom line, though, is our quarterback position will have to be exceptional for us to have a good year. That is the reality.”
With Perkins, Mendenhall said, “my guess is Game 1 won’t look like Game 13, but hopefully it looks exactly as it needs to for his role and his development and our team’s development for the first game.”
Kurt Benkert, Virginia’s starting quarterback in 2016 and ’17, is now with the Atlanta Falcons. The Cavaliers recruited Perkins to play immediately, and they’ve revamped their offense to take advantage of his mobility.
“He’s a freakish athlete,” running back Jordan Ellis said Monday. “He can take it 80 yards just like that, and I’m very excited to see what he can do in game action. It just adds another dynamic to our offense. “
Quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said he’s pleased with the progress Perkins has made over the past eight months.
“I feel comfortable, confident,” Beck said after practice Monday. “He’s really worked hard, and he’s a smart kid. He’s really picked things up, and he’s been going at a really good pace.”
In Charlottesville, Perkins has been reunited with Shawn Griswold, UVA’s director of football performance and development. Griswold held that position at Arizona State when Perkins was on the team there.
At Virginia, as he had at ASU, Perkins quickly wowed his new teammates and coaches with his combination of size, strength and speed.
“It’s just fun to watch an amazing athlete,” Mendenhall said.
That explosiveness has been on display since his first day at UVA. The initial challenge for Perkins, Beck said, was “getting up to speed in everything, with everything being new. Once that happened, then it was just dialing in on certain concepts. Right now, we’re just focused on timing, anticipation, precision.”
The Cavaliers’ passing game, inconsistent in the spring, has grown more efficient this month as Perkins’ chemistry with his receivers and linemen has improved. He’s also making better decisions and throwing the ball more accurately.
“It has to do with getting out here and getting used to the guys,” Perkins said Monday. “Repetition, repetition, repetition.”
Throughout the spring and during the early part of training camp, Mendenhall said, the offense relied heavily on Perkins’ “ability to run. More balance is coming daily with his ability to throw the football and [other players’ ability] to catch and protect, and so we’re a lot harder to defend when you can do both.”
Perkins is one of only three scholarship quarterbacks in the program. Sophomore Lindell Stone and true freshman Brennan Armstrong are the other two.
“It is what it is,” Beck said of the Cavaliers’ lack of depth and experience at the position, “so we just make the most of it and have each guy ready and developing and progressing. But I like our three guys, so I feel really good about who we have.”
Stone, a traditional drop-back passer, appeared in only one game as a true freshman last season, completing 2 of 9 passes for 36 yards. Heading into his second season, the former Woodberry Forest star is “much more comfortable, much more knowledgeable, but also he knows the routine,” Beck said.
“So he’s in a lot better place, just personally with where he’s at and in terms of knowing what college football is like. He’s really grown a lot as a player.”
Like Perkins, Armstrong is a dual-threat quarterback who enrolled at UVA at midyear and was able to take part in spring practice.
“If it wasn’t for coming in January, he wouldn’t have a great chance of getting on the field if needed,” Beck said. “So he’s positioned himself now to help us out if he’s called upon.”
Perkins understands how important it is for him to stay healthy this fall.
“You’ve got to be smart about the hits you need to take, when you need to get down, when you need to get out of bounds, when you need to slide,” he said. “Just try to stay as healthy as you can because you know it’s going to be a long season.”
On Aug. 11, Perkins was among the first group of players to pick jersey numbers, and he went with No. 3. A week later, Stone selected No. 36 for the second straight year.
Armstrong was in the third group to choose, and on Saturday night he selected No. 98. Wait, what?
“Pretty wild,” Beck said, smiling. “It’s definitely unique.”
If the Cavaliers have to – or opt to – take Perkins out of a game, which quarterback replaces him will depend on the score and the opponent.
“Brennan is more aligned in terms of what Bryce does, and it would require less change within what we’re doing offensively,” Mendenhall said. “Lindell currently is more polished and more experienced, but the style of play would be different, and so we’ve had to prepare for both [options].”
If the ‘Hoos were trailing and needed to move the ball through the air, Stone would probably get the call, Mendenhall said.
As his first game as a Cavalier nears, the anticipation is building for Perkins, who’ll have a large cheering section of family members at Scott Stadium.
“I’ll be excited,” Perkins said. “I’m excited right now. I know Saturday when I get out on the field, that’s when it’s really going to hit me.”
How Perkins would mesh with his new team was uncertain when he arrived in January, but the process has been seamless.
“He didn’t come in expecting accolades,” Mendenhall said. “He hasn’t required any additional attention. He hasn’t required any unique management. He just has been part of our team. I think that’s what endeared him to our team.”
Ellis said: “He’s been everything you would want in a teammate and a quarterback. He got here, and you could see … right away that he just fits in with everybody. He works hard. He didn’t say much at first, but now he’s becoming more of a leader. You hear his voice a lot more … I’ve very excited to see what he’s going to do this season.”