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College football: McGee is Cavs’ secret weapon

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

CHARLOTTESVILLE—Jake McGee is known as one of the jokesters on the University of Virginia football team.

When he’s defeating teammates in video games, he often refers to himself as “The Kid,” a nickname given to him by freshman wide receiver Canaan Severin.

A playful rivalry with senior middle linebacker Steve Greer during the offseason featured plenty of trash talk.

But the Cavaliers’ first two games have revealed another side to the sophomore tight end. He’s made clutch, acrobatic catches in Virginia’s wins over Richmond and Penn State.

Virginia head coach Mike London said a much bigger role is in store for McGee as the Cavaliers (2–0) prepare for their Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Georgia Tech (1–1, 0–1 ACC) on Saturday.

“He’s very athletic, and if you’re just hanging around him you wouldn’t expect it because he jokes around a lot,” Virginia sophomore cornerback Demetrious Nicholson said. “But when he’s out on the field, he’s very talented, athletic and he can pose mismatches for defenses.”

Greer said McGee (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) is too big for defensive backs to cover. But his speed presents problems for linebackers, too.

McGee made four receptions for 99 yards in the Cavaliers’ 17–16 win over Penn State last Saturday. He caught the game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 remaining.

He also had a leaping, one-handed 44-yard catch between two defenders on third-and-16 to set up the go-ahead score.

That catch was featured on ESPN’s top plays, but McGee said he’s taking his newfound popularity in stride. He said he’s “just trying to rise to the occasion” and show Virginia fans he can contribute.

“I get a little laugh out of it because it was a pretty cool catch,” McGee said. “But you’ve got to move on quickly and we’ve got a tough ACC opponent coming up.”

McGee was a quarterback at Collegiate, a private school in Richmond. His team defeated Virginia starting quarterback Michael Rocco’s high school, Lynchburg Christian, in the 2009 Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division 1 state championship game.

McGee tallied seven touchdowns (four passing, three rushing) in that game as Collegiate won its second straight state title.

McGee said his past experience as a quarterback helps his on-field chemistry with Rocco.

Rocco said he trusts McGee to go up in traffic to retrieve his passes because he’s seen him do it repeatedly in practice.

“I feel like I understand what goes through his head a little bit,” McGee said. “Like if he’s rolling, I understand what he wants to see from a receiver. I just try to go where I think it would help him best on scramble plays and stuff like that.”

McGee was also a basketball standout at Collegiate, which isn’t far from the University of Richmond, where London served as head coach in 2008 and ’09.

He orally committed to Richmond while London was there. So when London was hired to replace Al Groh at Virginia, McGee switched to the Cavaliers.

London said McGee was likely not recruited by other Football Bowl Subdivision programs because private schools don’t usually produce high-quality game film, and there was skepticism about the level of competition he faced.

Those doubts led the Cavaliers to pass up on former Collegiate quarterback Russell Wilson, who is now the starter for the Seattle Seahawks.

“He was a Division I–A prospect, but that’s what happens sometimes,” London said of McGee. “Some young men, they get overlooked or the numbers just don’t quite work out for the schools to have those slots and scholarships available. It just happened that he came to Virginia and there were slots and scholarships available.”

McGee is one of four tight ends who receive playing time for the Cavaliers. He was moved to tight end once London realized he didn’t quite grasp the nuances of playing college quarterback, but had the athleticism to help elsewhere.

McGee’s not adept at blocking, but said he’s working on it. Still, after he delivered in back-to-back games, the Cavaliers have no choice but to make him a bigger part of their offense.

“His role will increase because he’s demonstrated performance and production,” London said. “So you’ll see more of him for sure.”

ACC TAPS GREER, ABOUSHI

Greer was named ACC Linebacker of the Week after recording 15 tackles and two sacks in the win over Penn State. Senior left tackle Oday Aboushi (12 knockdown blocks) was named Lineman of the Week.

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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