"If you're going to measure Todd Kirtley's height, weight, how many pounds he can bench-press and his speed in the 40-yard dash, he isn't worth a damn. It may be trite to say this but Todd is a leader and a winner -- always has been, always will be. There's no need for any other measurements." -Kirtley's high school football coach, Ed Henry
Everywhere he goes, every game he plays, Virginia quarterback Todd Kirtley has to live with the words "too small, too slow, too weak."
Kirtley, the Cavaliers' starter from Fairfax, has defied the experts who insists a starting quarterback in a major-conference team must stand 6-foot-4, weigh 210 pounds, bench-press 300 and run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.
"Those statistics may demonstrate who has the most resources to work with from the beginning, but they don't predict who will be the best athlete or the best quarterback," says Kirtley, who stands a shade over 6-0 and weighs 175 pounds only after his wife Gretchen's best homemade dinner.
When he arrived on campus three years ago as an all-Met selection from Robinson High School, he was lucky to bench-press 150 pounds or run a 40-yard dash in 5.2 seconds. "I'm up to 225 on the press and a legitimate 5.0 in the 40 -- 4.9 when I'm flying," he said.
Those figures don't indicate it, but Kirtley is a major reason why the Cavaliers last year had their first winning season since 1968, and are expected to contend for their first bowl bid ever this season, beginning here Saturday afternoon against defensively strong Navy.
Last year, in his first season as a starter, Kirtley completed 50 percent of his passes, totaling more than 1,100 yards and six touchdowns. Despite a serious challenge this fall for his No. 1 spot, "It's the same story as it was last season," said fourth-year Coach Dick Bestwick. "Todd's the quarterback until somebody can prove to me otherwise."
Bestwick, like all of the quarterback's coaches, speaks highly of Kirtley. "He's one of those youngsters who makes the college game great for coaches," said Bestwick.
But three years ago, when Kirtley was leading Robinson out of obscurity (at one time it had lost 15 straight) to a regional championship, Bestwick was opposed to offering Kitley a scholarship. Two of his recruiters had to convince the coach right before decision-day to sign Kirtley before he opted for William and Mary.
You know, sometimes you look at a kid and say 'Ain't no way this kid can play major college football.' That was Todd," said Bestwick. "Not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough. But somehow he gets the job done. eHe's a winner."
The person quickest to agree with Bestwick's assessments of Kirtley's deficiencies is Todd Kirtley, a confident, articulate, intelligent young man whose football wisdom belies his 20 years.
"I don't even see why they took a chance on offering me a scholarship three years ago," Kirtley said.Much of the credit goes to his high school coach, Ed Henry, who convinced Bestwick that with a struggling program in 1977, he wasn't going to sign some highly sought, big-name high school star. "I told Bestwick he needed a winner," said Henry, a Virginia alumus who originally didn't want Kirtley in a Cavalier uniform.
Henry and Kirtley were afraid that the player would be lost in the shuffle behind more talented quarterback prospects in Charlottesville and never even get a chance to show the coaches his ability.
The fears were legitimate. Kirtley started his freshman year playing with the "fifth or sixth string." But an injury here and a player quitting there put Kirtley higher on the depth chart by midseason.
Bestwick finally decided to give him a chance in the second half of a game against Virginia Military -- as a halfback. An option played from the Cavalier veer was designed to let Kirtley put one up in the air -- which he did for a 45-yard completion in his first collegiate play. In spot duty against North Carolina and N.C. State, he passed for two more touchdowns and 200 yards in two halves.
Last year, he started every game of the season except the Maryland contest, when he suffered from a separated right shoulder -- the only injury of his career.
Many at Virginia did not think Kirtley would withstand the preseason challenge of Lindsay Delaney, a highly touted junior transfer from powerhouse Pittsburgh. Delaney has most of the physical tools Kirtley doesn't, but Kirtley remains the starter.
This season, the Cavalier offense has a new look. Bestwick has switched to an "I-back" formation to better utilize the talents of all-Atlantic Coast Conference tailback Tommy Vigorito, and Kirtley.
"This offense takes advantage of the things Todd does best -- run play-action fakes, read complicated defensive alighments and check off plays at the line of scrimmage," said the offensive coordinator, Dick Curl. "He uses his secondary receivers like he does everything else -- with great intelligence. And he has an accurate but not really strong arm. Even though we call the plays, we feel Todd, with his intelligence, is capable of calling audibles whenever he feels necessary."
"Todd's not the kind of kid who can carry a poor team," Henry said. "But he reminds me of a college version of Bob Griese in that he can supplement a good running game with his tactical passing and leadership."
"I like to lead by doing, not by mouthing," Kirtley said. "I'm just not a rah-rah type guy. I'm tough in the huddle when I need to be and the team has confidence in me, but I don't wake up one day and say, "Today, I'm going to be assertive and practice my leadership.'"
He's always ready to stand up and be counted on," said Henry.
All of this is pretty high praise for a man who never truly ached to play college footfall and probably won't continue after his senior year at Virginia. He plans to attend law school and coach on the college level later if he can stand recruiting. "There's a time and place for football," he says. i"It's not the only thing I think about."
And he doesn't sound phony or accomodating when he talks bout his education (he's a B+ economics student), and the importance of his family ties. He also volunteers spare time after practice to speak to young kids in the area on the values of athletics and education.
His goals for the season?
"I don't set personal goals because they rarely help the team win," he said.
"I would like to perform well and help us get to a bowl game because the university has never been involved in one."