Virginia Coach Mike London promised his quarterback competition wouldn’t last long this August, an indication that perhaps the constant rotation under center the past two years would become a thing of the past. On Monday, one week after training camp began, he delivered on his word.
London officially named redshirt sophomore David Watford the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback when they begin the 2013 season against BYU on Aug. 31. Watford, who redshirted last season after playing as a true freshman, beat out redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert for the job.
London said Watford’s steady improvement and prior game experience — he appeared in 10 games and attempted 74 passes in 2011 — were huge factors for him and new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. The two coaches informed both quarterbacks of their decision during a meeting Sunday night after Virginia held its first preseason scrimmage Saturday.
“I just think David is a little bit ahead of [Lambert] in terms of being able to go on the field in a game and direct our team, particularly with what we’re planning to do this year with our offensive scheme,” London said.
Watford completed 40.5 percent of his passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions as a true freshman splitting time with former Cavaliers signal-caller Michael Rocco. But he was the odd man out last summer when quarterback Phillip Sims transferred to Virginia from Alabama and was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.
Watford made it known he did not want to take a redshirt year during the 2012 preseason, but London determined it was in the program’s best interests. Rocco and Sims were both uneven last season and neither seized the starting job. By the end of the year, both were involved in a series-by-series rotation.
This offseason, Rocco transferred to Richmond to play for his uncle, Danny, the Spiders’ head coach. Sims, meanwhile, was declared academically ineligible and was kicked off the Virginia football team in May. He has since transferred to Winston-Salem State.
But Watford, the cousin of former Virginia quarterback and current wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, never sulked as he watched from the sideline last year. Instead, the Hampton native worked diligently with Virginia’s scout team and showed “an innate ability to be the leader, to be the face of the program,” London said Monday.
Lambert, a four-star recruit from Jesup, Ga., enrolled at Virginia early for spring practice in 2011 and possesses the best arm on the roster. But Watford is more mobile and proved to be the more accurate passer as practice wore on last week.
“Obviously he was disappointed because he wasn’t the starter, but at the same time, he shook his head and said, ‘I understand,’ ” London said about his conversation with Lambert. “I think Greyson’s the type of young man who’s gonna go to work, put his head down for David and know that he’s just a play away from playing.”
Whether the revolving door of the past two years returns should Watford struggle remains to be seen. After facing BYU to start the season, Oregon pays a visit to Charlottesville.
But for now, London has the starting quarterback he’s been searching for all offseason.
“I’m not looking to, [after] four snaps, take him out of the game,” London said of Watford. “It’s his and that’s the decision. He has to perform, but he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder.”