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U-Va.'s Little Big Man

Undersized Hagans Likely Will Start at Quarterback

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2004; Page D02

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Virginia football coach Al Groh prefers tall quarterbacks. In his last two stops in the NFL, as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots and then head coach of the New York Jets, Groh worked with two of the league's tallest quarterbacks -- Drew Bledsoe and Vinny Testaverde. Matt Schaub, the Cavaliers' starting quarterback in each of the last three seasons, is 6 feet 5, the same height as Bledsoe and Testaverde.

But as Groh opened his fourth preseason camp at Virginia on Wednesday, he was preparing a quarterback who was seven inches shorter than Schaub. Junior Marques Hagans, who started one game in each of the last two seasons, figures to be under center when the Cavaliers open the season Sept. 4 at Temple.


Virginia's Marques Hagans, mainly a punt returner last season, likely will replace Matt Schaub, now in NFL, as starting quarterback. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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"It's the same discussion that's been going on for 20 years with Doug Flutie," Groh said. "To see some of the things that Matt could see, Marques is going to need a periscope."

Hagans, 5-10 and 211 pounds, is probably taller than Flutie, who is generously listed at 5-10 by the San Diego Chargers, his fourth team in 12 NFL seasons. Like Flutie, Hagans has showed an ability to elude pass rushers by scrambling, and Groh says he has a stronger arm than Schaub, who is in line to become Michael Vick's backup after the Atlanta Falcons drafted him in the third round of the NFL draft this past spring.

Hagans "has a very strong arm," Groh said. "He's had the strongest arm on this team for three years."

But Hagans hasn't had many opportunities to show off his arm. Hagans was redshirted during the 2001 season after spending the previous year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. His college career got off to an inauspicious start in the 2002 opener against Colorado State. After Schaub threw an interception late in the fourth quarter, Groh replaced him with Hagans, who led the Cavaliers into position for a game-winning touchdown. But on third and goal, Hagans fumbled a pitch on an option play, and the Rams recovered at their 1-yard line with 10 seconds left and held on for a 35-29 victory. Hagans played sparingly at quarterback during the rest of the 2002 season and mostly concentrated on punt returns.

Last season, Schaub separated his right shoulder in the first quarter of the opener against Duke. By then, the Cavaliers already had moved Hagans to wide receiver. Hagans also was injured during the Duke game and was unable to practice at quarterback before the second game against South Carolina. Redshirt freshman Anthony Martinez started at quarterback in Virginia's 31-7 loss to the Gamecocks. Hagans moved back to quarterback before the third game at Western Michigan. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran nine times for 68 yards in the Cavaliers' 59-16 victory.

But after Schaub returned to action two weeks later against Wake Forest, Hagans threw only five passes the rest of the season. As a wide receiver, Hagans had 28 catches for 262 yards and averaged 9.6 yards on 28 punt returns, third-best in the ACC.

"There are a lot of good quarterbacks who have never returned punts in a game, so that gives you an indication of his athleticism," Groh said. "His teammates have seen him as a playmaker. He's got the confidence in himself because he knows he has made plays in games. He knows what it's like to be riding on that bus to the stadium, knowing he's got to go out there and perform."

But Groh admits Hagans will be playing a more demanding role this season. Martinez and sophomore Christian Olsen, a transfer from Notre Dame, also are competing at quarterback.

"We feel very positive about [Hagans]," Groh said. "Marcus has practiced this offense for three years. He's not an apprentice at this. Marcus has been in a lot of games and has impacted a lot of games."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company