University of Virginia Coach Al Groh said he worries about senior quarterback Marques Hagans taking life too seriously. A former wide receiver and kick returner, Hagans has become a meticulous student of the game, worrying about every little detail on and off the field. When the Cavaliers are playing well, Hagans is reluctant to take much of the credit. But when Virginia's offense struggles, Hagans blames himself for many of his team's shortcomings.
"He's a very conscientious, very responsible kid," Groh said. "It appeared at times he was taking this situation very seriously. We all know it's a serious responsibility, but it still has to be a joyous experience. I tell him, 'Just let it flow.' "
Actually, Hagans said, he is having the time of his life. He already has accomplished what many said he couldn't do -- start at quarterback on a Division I-A top 25 football team and earn a college degree. Hagans received a bachelor's degree in anthropology in May and will take graduate classes this fall. Four years ago, Hagans wasn't sure he would be around to enjoy his senior season.
Hagans, 22, was an academic non-qualifier after graduating from Hampton High School in Hampton, Va. He spent the 2000 season at Fork Union Military Academy, where he earned a qualifying standardized test score and polished his quarterbacking skills. But while redshirting during the 2001 season at Virginia, Hagans nearly got suspended from school for academic reasons.
"I really wasn't even going to class," Hagans said. "I was just sleeping and playing video games until practice."
When Groh learned Hagans hadn't even purchased his textbooks more than a month into the fall 2001 semester, the coach threatened to leave his third-team quarterback in Charlottesville when the Cavaliers traveled to Wake Forest in early November. Hagans was at the university's bookstore the following morning and attended every class the rest of the semester.
But shortly after the 2001 season ended, Hagans received a letter from Virginia, informing him another bad semester of grades would result in a yearlong suspension from school. Hagans had to meet with several deans and professors, who wanted to know whether he was serious about getting an education.
"They gave me a second chance and I took advantage of it," Hagans said. "Once I got that letter that said I could be kicked out, I buckled down and got serious."
Things came much easier for Hagans on the field. During the 2002 season, while backing up all-ACC quarterback Matt Schaub, Hagans was one of the team's most versatile players. He returned a punt for a touchdown and threw for another score against West Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl. As a sophomore in 2003, Hagans again played behind Schaub, but was the team's third-leading rusher, sixth-leading receiver and leading punt returner.
Finally, after Schaub graduated and was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2004 NFL draft, Hagans got his opportunity to start at quarterback last year. He was magnificent in the first five games, completing more than 70 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception, as well as three rushing touchdowns. More importantly, Virginia was undefeated and ranked No. 6 in the country heading into its showdown at No. 7 Florida State on Oct. 16.
But the Seminoles easily exposed the Cavaliers' deficiencies in a 36-3 blowout in Tallahassee. With Florida State stacking the line of scrimmage to shut down Virginia's running game, the Cavaliers ran for only 20 yards. Hagans completed 20 of 30 passes, but few attempts were downfield. Worse, Hagans injured his hip flexor on a hard tackle and limped through the rest of the game. The injury bothered him throughout the rest of the season.
Virginia lost three of its last four games, including a 37-34 overtime loss to Fresno State in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho, and finished with an 8-4 record.
"Honestly, I'd say last season was a disappointment," Hagans said. "We lost the last game of the season and lost a couple of other games we thought we should win."
The Cavaliers head into the 2005 season without seven players who were chosen in the NFL draft, including leading receiver Heath Miller and leading rusher Alvin Pearman. Even without them, Hagans hopes Groh has more confidence in the offense and allows the quarterback to take more chances in the passing game.
"I think the main thing is I feel more confident," Hagans said. "Being able to go a full season at quarterback was fun. I had ups and downs, but I'm more confident now. I think at any level you've got to show you can throw the football. If you're one-dimensional, they'll just load up the box against you. . . . I think we're going to have a little more explosiveness in the offense this year."
Regardless of how this season plays out, Hagans knows he has accomplished more than many thought he would. He is the first person from his immediate family to receive a college degree, and he inspired his mother, Connie, to return to college.
"I couldn't be more happy," Hagans said. "I've got one more year to play football, and I've already got my degree."