One sweltering summer day while running, lifting weights and doing all the things conscientious athletes do to stay in condition, Virginia senior quarterback Todd Kirtley was startled by a realization.

"I thought to myself, 'This is it. This is the last chance,' " Kirtley said. It had finally dawned on Kirtley, a product of Robinson High in Fairfax, this would be his last opportunity to realize the only specific goal he ever set for himself: to be part of the first Virginia bowl team.

Kirtley, whose 6-foot, 175-pound body has been called too small, too slow and too weak to play quarterback on the major college level, is realistic. He doesn't plan on a professional football future.

"Over the summer, I started thinking about how this would be the last time I ever have to prepare for a season of athletics," Kirtley said. "I didn't want to dwell on lasts. But they kept creeping up on me: the last spring ball; the last two-a-days; the last season opener."

In one way, however, this season is a first for Kirtley -- the first time he has gone from spring practice to the season opener (Saturday, here against West Virginia) as the uncontested No. 1 quarterback.

He is stronger than he was last year and his right arm is completely healthy. Much of the Virginia offensive unit is inexperienced and will depend on Kirtley's consistency and leadership ability. He was named a cocaptain this week.

"I'm expecting Todd to have the same type of senior year here that he had as a senior in high school when Robinson won a regional championship," Cavalier Coach Dick Bestwick said this week.

"If you're going to measure Todd's height, weight, how many pounds he can bench-press, and his speed in the 40-yard dash, he isn't worth a damn," said Ed Henry, Kirtley's Robinson High School coach.

"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."

Kirtley, who plans to become a lawyer, is analytical about the Cavaliers. "All we need to do is line up and get after people," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. This is my last chance."