Coming off a 2011 campaign that established him as one of the leaders in Virginia’s football program, junior quarterback Michael Rocco admitted to being “a little confused” when reports first surfaced another signal caller — Alabama transfer Phillip Sims — would be joining the Cavaliers in June.
Then, once the NCAA granted Sims a waiver to play for Virginia this season, Rocco’s firm grip on the position suddenly disappeared when Coach Mike London announced Sims would be given an opportunity to win the starting job.
But with training camp set to begin Monday, Rocco made it clear Friday he isn’t backing down from the challenge.
“I really believe it’s my job to lose and I’m not gonna lose it,” he said emphatically. “This camp is gonna be fun from a competition standpoint, but I’m in it to win it.”
The potential for a quarterback controversy, and how Virginia’s players and coaches will handle it, dominated talk at Virginia’s annual media day.
Last year the Cavaliers went into the season with Rocco and David Watford splitting snaps until London gave Rocco the reins at the end of October. Virginia promptly won four consecutive games and put itself in position to win the ACC’s Coastal Division.
But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was quick to point out there were more factors involved in the Cavaliers’ success than just settling on one player under center and “I could see myself in a situation where I’d play more than one” this year.
His challenge now is getting a handle on what Sims is capable of since coaches have only seen him throw on video. Last year Sims appeared in eight games for the Crimson Tide, but threw for just 163 yards. Rocco, meanwhile, threw for 2,671 yards to go along with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
“The biggest thing is the players that we have are confident in the quarterback position for the first time in awhile,” said London, who added he’ll likely use two huddles during some practices to get each player more reps. London does not have a timetable on when a decision will be made as to who will start when Virginia opens the regular season against Richmond on Sept. 3.
Wide receiver Tim Smith, who won a state championship with Sims in 2008 at Oscar Smith High in Norfolk, said the players are trying their best to not play favorites in the battle because “the best quarterback will play.”
Even Rocco seems to have embraced that notion.
“I don’t want there to be any hard feelings or distant relationship,” Rocco said. “I know he’s been at Alabama where they won a national championship, but our offense is a little bit different than Alabama’s, so it’s gonna be tough to learn. I’m open to help him, but I’m also here to win the job. I’m a competitor.”
London may be one of 59 coaches who vote in the USA Today coaches poll, but he admitted Friday he did not cast one of the nine votes Virginia received when the preseason poll was released Thursday.
Since the program’s first bowl appearance since 2007 last year, London has talked with his team about how “you can’t be satisfied with what just happened” and that Virginia has yet to attain its goal of becoming consistently relevant in the ACC.
“There’s no delusions of grandeur of who we are or what we are. We’re a team that, hopefully, is rising,” London said.