Virginia football: Michael Rocco is named starting quarterback over Alabama transfer Phillip Sims


Junior Michael Rocco will start at quarterback for Virginia in its season opener against Richmond on Saturday. Richmond first-year Coach Danny Rocco is Michael’s uncle. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
August 27, 2012

Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco started every game a year ago and led the team to its first bowl game since 2007.

On Monday, Coach Mike London rewarded his incumbent by officially giving him the reins of the offense again.

London ended Virginia’s three-way quarterback competition by declaring Rocco, a junior, the winner on a day when the team switched its focus from training camp to preparing for Saturday’s season opener against Richmond.

Rocco, a Lynchburg native, beat out Alabama transfer Phillip Sims and sophomore David Watford for the starting role. Sims will begin the year as Virginia’s backup quarterback and Watford likely will redshirt, London announced.

After hearing the news, Rocco insisted the challenges he faced during training camp were the least of his concerns. He reiterated, “It was my job to lose.”

“They’re both teammates of mine and I never want anything bad to happen in their career, in their life, but I believe that I’m here to play quarterback and I’m here to play quarterback at a high level,” said Rocco, before later addressing the possibility Sims could also receive playing time this season.

“My team is confident in me and the coaches are confident in me, so I’m really not looking over my shoulder to be tentative about somebody behind me.”

For London, the decision came down to his comfort level with Rocco’s knowledge of the playbook. In addition to Rocco’s improved deep passing and the fact that he took most of the first-team snaps during the preseason, “it became apparent that Michael has the best grasp of the offense right now,” London said.

Rocco came on strong at the end of the 2011 season after London decided to stop rotating Watford into games. Virginia subsequently reeled off four consecutive victories last November, including road wins over Miami and Florida State. Rocco finished with 2,671 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 60.7 completion percentage.

“The confidence I feel now . . . it’s just light years ahead of where I was last year,” said Rocco, who will face his uncle, first-year Richmond Coach Danny Rocco, on Saturday.

In his first training camp at Virginia, Sims showed off the strong arm that made him one of the most coveted quarterbacks in the country when he was being recruited out of Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va., in 2009.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor also praised Sims’s football acumen after receiving meaningful snaps with the Crimson Tide last year.

But even with a hardship waiver from the NCAA that allows him to play this season, learning the offense in three weeks proved to be too much for Sims to overcome, at least initially.

Unlike last year, there is no script for when Sims might play in a game this season but “any opportunities we get a chance to play Phillip, we will,” London said.

The odd man out is Watford, who appeared in 10 games as a freshman last year.

London said he discussed a position change with Watford when the two met recently about Rocco keeping his starting job, but the Hampton native told London, “I’d like to play quarterback.”

Barring injury, he’ll have to wait another year to do so in a game.

“With David, it was a tough call . . . He’s matured tremendously,” London said. “I just want to make sure as we’re moving forward that the decision with Michael and Phil does not exclude David.”

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