There once was a time when Virginia sophomore Michael Rocco was not planning ever to wear a Cavaliers jersey, much less be the team’s starting quarterback. During the summer before his senior year at Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Rocco orally committed to Louisville, which at the time ran a pro-style offense under then-Coach Steve Kragthorpe.
Back then, Virginia had just switched to a spread offense and had stopped seriously pursuing Rocco, who was comfortable with the pro-style system he’d operated under his father, Frank, the LCA coach.
Then, at the end of the 2009 season, Louisville fired Kragthorpe and hired Charlie Strong, who planned to implement a spread offense. Meantime, Virginia fired Al Groh and hired Mike London, who planned to implement a pro-style offense.
According to Frank Rocco, Strong called Michael shortly after he was hired at Louisville and said, “You’re still our guy. We still want you.” Coaches from Northwestern and Temple, among other schools, also called around that time, wondering whether Michael might be considering re-opening his recruitment, Frank Rocco said.
Michael Rocco took an official visit to Louisville on the penultimate weekend in January 2010. Shortly before Rocco’s visit, Louisville hired former Virginia Offensive Coordinator Mike Groh as its quarterbacks coach and former Virginia Offensive Line Coach Dave Borbely in the same capacity. The Roccos knew Groh and Borbely and felt comfortable with them, Frank Rocco said.
The weekend visit went okay, Frank Rocco said, “but there just didn’t seem to be that same connection that there was with the previous staff. And when we sat down with them and started X-ing and O-ing, it was very easy to see that they were going to do some pro-style stuff in the initial stages because they guys they were inheriting were pro-style guys. But you could see that they were going in a different direction.”
On the drive back from Louisville, Frank Rocco received a call on his cell phone from Anthony Poindexter, a Virginia assistant under Al Groh who was being retained on London’s staff.
“He said, ‘Coach, I know you’re coming home from your visit today. We just had our first recruiting weekend. Coach London just wanted me to let you know that if there was any indecision out there at Louisville, we would love to talk to you,’” Frank Rocco said.
Frank Rocco said he did not want Michael to know who had called, so he told Poindexter to let them digest the Louisville visit and if there was any interest, they would get back in touch with him.
The Roccos arrived back in Lynchburg late that Sunday night, and on Monday evening, the family sat down for a talk. There was one more weekend remaining before National Signing Day, the day on which high school seniors can sign a letter of intent. Frank Rocco told his youngest son that Virginia might be an option if Michael wanted it to be.
Michael decided to call Strong. According to Frank, Michael said to Strong: “Coach, I just want you to know that I could have an opportunity to go visit U-Va. and there might be an opportunity there for me. As you’re looking at your long-range plan, I need to know what you see the as far as the development of the offense and how you really see me fitting in, and would you support me going and looking at another option, or are you just telling me I’m locked in here?”
Strong’s response, according to Frank Rocco: “I understand what you’re saying. This is new for both staffs, and I don’t want to lock anybody into anything that they feel uncomfortable with. Why don’t you go take your visit to Virginia and at least be able to have a comparison of the two situations?”
The Roccos decided to take an official visit to Virginia on the final weekend of January 2010. Bill Lazor, who’d spent the previous seven years of his career coaching in the NFL, was hired to be the Cavaliers offensive coordinator the day before Rocco’s visit.
When Michael Rocco and Lazor first met, Rocco instantly was intrigued by the complex pro-style offense Lazor planned to employ. Lazor showed Rocco examples of the different personnel groups and passing concepts he would use, the motions and shifts that would characterize his offense. They talked about Lazor’s system and the quarterbacks he’d coached in the NFL. Their calm demeanors and cerebral approaches seemed a good match.
Michael Rocco said Charlottesville’s close proximity to Lynchburg – the cities are separated by roughly 67 miles – and his familiarity with London impacted his ultimate decision. But the deciding factor might have been Lazor. Michael Rocco called Lazor’s addition to London’s staff “really impactful in my decision-making process.”
“If (Lazor) hadn't been hired and they'd chosen to go a different route, I really don't know how that would have impacted my decision because it didn't happen that way,” Michael Rocco said. “But I'm thankful that it did.”
On Monday, Feb. 1, 2010, Michael Rocco called Strong to inform the coach he was changing his commitment. Two days later, Rocco signed his letter of intent to play for Virginia.
After playing sparingly in six games as a true freshman last season, Rocco entered training camp earlier this month in the midst of a four-way battle for the starting quarterback job. On Monday, London announced Rocco would start Saturday’s season opener against Division 1-AA William & Mary.