Sewell Takes the Reins
Thursday, August 30, 2007
A year ago, with two quarterbacks listed above him on the Virginia depth chart, Jameel Sewell had so much to think about: how much he needed to improve, how to run a college offense, how to command a huddle.
But early this preseason, clarity came much easier to Sewell. When asked what he wanted to improve on most, he squinted in the sun, sweat still pooling on his forehead from a practice, unscrewed a drink cap and answered: "Winning."
He had nothing more to add, not even after he swallowed his Gatorade. He didn't need to, either.
For Sewell, it really may be that simple this season. He doesn't have to worry about internal competition; the quarterback job is his, despite freshman Peter Lalich's impressive summer. He doesn't have to worry about making sure his voice is loud enough in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage; he mastered that in the middle of last season. He doesn't have to worry about his throwing-wrist injury, at least not too much; he rehabbed ahead of schedule and only needs to ice it now.
"It's like Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship" on Sunday, offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "He pretty much knows he's going to win, so he just has to go out there and play well. I would think it's very similar for Jameel right now. You just go about your business and work on perfecting your craft."
Sewell has emerged as a leader of the Cavaliers' offense, charged with reinvigorating a team that finished 113th in the country in total offense last year. Through intermittent struggles last year, Sewell displayed glimpses of the natural ability that landed him at Virginia and gave coaches reason to believe he can turn around the offense.
Sewell delivered Virginia's longest run of the season, a 36-yard scramble for a touchdown against Maryland, then rushed for two touchdowns in a season-salvaging victory over Miami. He set freshman school records in completions, yards and passing touchdowns. His 200 rushing yards were second on the team.
But Sewell also knows there is room to improve. He did not throw a touchdown pass in Virginia's final five games. He threw more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (five).
"A lot more is expected of me," Sewell said. "A lot more's expected."
Sewell has shown the ability to deliver on those expectations since he arrived from Hermitage High in Richmond. He signed to play at Virginia after Vic Hall committed to play quarterback, placing himself in competition with one of the greatest high school quarterbacks in the state's history.
"A lot of people were wondering why both signed," said Patrick Kane, Sewell's coach at Hermitage. "I had no doubt that Jameel would be competing. I don't think Vic Hall was a positive or negative. [Sewell] has extreme confidence in his abilities, I don't think who else was being recruited made any impact."
When coaches needed to move a quarterback to cornerback midway through Sewell's freshman season, they chose Hall. Last year, when Christian Olsen and Kevin McCabe proved ineffective, Sewell was thrust into the starting lineup.
His skills were still raw, but there was no doubting his athleticism. He can kick and punt a football nearly well enough to do so in college. He can throw marginally well with his right hand, Groh said. He amazed Kane with how he always put the right touch on a ball, whether it was a laser or a loft.
He played basketball in high school and played like "an enforcer," Kane said, clearing space in the lane. Kane kept him in on Hermitage's goal line defense as a linebacker.
"Just watching the natural talent that he had, he was extremely gifted," Groh said. "He's got all the tools."
He's pairing those skills with more leadership, where he made his largest strides last year. He spoke softly with eyes wide in his first start at Georgia Tech, but as the year wore on, he became more comfortable.
"There was no doubt he was in control of the huddle," Kane said. "He'd snap somebody straight if it needed to be done."
"I don't think anything has changed," senior defensive end Chris Long said. "From Day One, I would follow him anywhere, as a leader and a quarterback. When you get here, sometimes you don't understand that you lead by example as well. His personality is one that commands respect. It helps a lot to have a quarterback that understands he leads by example and is a vocal leader."
He understands how to lead now, having done so for nine games. It is one less thing to worry about for Sewell. All he has to do now, he knows, is win.