"I was more than happy," Tommy Vigorito said. "I was ecstatic."
"My first impression?" said Greg Taylor. "I was kind of shocked. I figured that anybody who gained 933 yards and scored 13 touchdowns, how you could justify moving him to wide receiver?"
That was the gut reaction when Dick Bestwick, the Virginia coach, told the star running backs of the Cavaliers' first winning football season since 1968 that he was breaking up an entry as well known to Wahoo fans as Jack Daniels and water.
Virginia has gone to the split-back veer offense in order to utilize both Vigorito and Taylor at the same time, and it worked, with Vigorito gaining 1,044 yards and each ranking among the top five Atlantic Coast Conference players in rushing last season. Now, Bestwick was telling them that Virginia was returning to the I-formation in which both could not play at the same time.
He told them that Vigorito would become the tailback, the glamor position of the I attack and that Taylor would be moved to wide receiver, a position at which Virginia lost its top four players to graduation. Naturally Taylor would have some concerns. The top receiver last year caught 20 passes for 196 yards; as backs, Vigorito and Taylor caught 14 of the Cavaliers' 93 total completions in 11 games.
Bestwick says that the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Taylor's best pro shot was a wide receiver. This is important to Bestwick's program, as well as Taylor individually. Bestwick has recruited to Virginia players previous coaches could not attract, brainy athletes with physical attributes of good major college players.
While the split-back veer got both Vigorito and Taylor in the game at the same time, it also placed a burden on starting guarterback Todd Kirtley and Lindsay Delaney, who sat out last season after transferring from Pitt. Neither possessed the sprintout abilities of a true veer quarterback. As good as Vigorito and Taylor were together, Virginia's other personnel dictates the team is better running out of the I.
So Bestwick told Taylor the coaching staff was hoping he would catch a minimum of five passes per game-55 for the season, a number that would have tied the Richmond native for first in the ACC last season. Nevertheless, Taylor's fears were not eased by spring practice.
"During the spring a couple of times they demonstrated to me how they were going to use me," he said. "But I'm not totally satisfied by the process they're planning on using me. One scrimmage in particular, a passing scrimmage, I handled the ball six times for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Anytime I prove to them that I can do that, they should realize what a weapon I can be out there at wide receiver.
"That was the only time they demonstrated to me they planned on using me. I fugured during the spring was the time everything was experimental. . . If they planned on using me and it was an experimental basis, they should have used me a little more."
He thought about the switch all summer, Taylor said. And he said he realizes that "for us to be effective, you can't lean on one particular thing, lean on one weapon in your offense. . . Coach Bestwick said he can't understand why I won't catch 55 passes this season, and that sounds good to me. I just want to keep the defense honest, because once they stop our running game, when they know you have to pass, it makes it a lot tougher."
For Vigorito, the switch means that he probably will wind up with more publicity than ever this season. He is hoping Taylor does not get ignored. They have become good friends and Vigorito says, "If that happens, I'll feel worse."
Yet, there is no hiding his elation over becoming a tailback again. It means he doesn't have to block every play when he doesn't carry the ball and it allows him to gather momentum and see his holes better, starting seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. And he gets more carries.
"I don't like individual goals, but we set team goals and I said the tailback would have to gain between 1,200 and 1,400 yards for us to achieve success," Vigorito said.
"I guess you can call that some kind of personal goal. I want all the fun things that go along with gaining all those yards -- post-season teams and post-season games and things like that. But they're not really obsessions or anything like that. If I ended up with 600 yards and we went to a bowl game, I'd be happy."