Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Rightfully so, all eyes on Vic

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Vic Hall wanted to talk about special teams.

That was the first thing out of his mouth following Virginia's spring game Saturday -- how good the team's special teams looked, how much better they've gotten.

Not his first appearance at quarterback in front of the home crowd.

Not his fight for the starting job, which will take a break until fall now that spring practice is over.

Not any of his 11 completions, showing off the arm we didn't get to see in his regular-season start last year against Virginia Tech.

Not his run up the gut Saturday that surely would have gone for 20 yards or more had the no-contact rule not stopped it.

Special teams.

"That's the most significant thing to talk about this spring," Hall said.

Nice try, Vic, but not true.

You are the most significant thing to talk about this spring. And this fall. And this season. Because you represent an evolution in this program's thinking.

Maybe Hall will win the job. Maybe he won't. But just the fact that the senior is being given a chance, that he's getting an honest-to-goodness look, is a credit to coach Al Groh's willingness to change, even if it means admitting a mistake.

Make no mistake about one thing: Groh loves Hall. Always has. He gushes about the former Gretna High School star at every opportunity, talking about his leadership and hustle and all-around positive influence on the team. That's why Hall served as a captain as a junior cornerback last year.

"In Vic we trust," Groh said Saturday.

But not enough for him to play quarterback -- until the season finale last year, when he ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns in a surprise start against one of the nation's top defenses.

Better late than never, though. Especially when Hall's got one last year to try to win the position battle.

All in all, this has been a positive, productive offseason for Groh. He made the necessary changes to his coaching staff to inject some excitement into a program that was on life support. He got Jameel Sewell -- the ex-starter who returned from a yearlong hiatus because of academics -- back onto the field, and the senior quarterback looked sharp Saturday in his first game back.

But his best move was recognizing Hall's potential as an offensive player, something those who followed his record-breaking prep career have been begging to see. In addition to his QB play Saturday, Hall also returned punts and served as the holder on kicks, giving the team options on fakes.

"Vic's energy level seems to be endless," Groh said. "He loves to be in the game. He loves to do everything that you can do. His positive nature is infectious to everybody.

"However it shakes out, he's going to be a busy college football player next year."

Hall clearly has the respect of those around him. Marc Verica, the third quarterback vying for the starting job, said he looks up to Hall. And Sewell is one of the biggest advocates for Hall being used on offense.

"He could play anywhere," Sewell said. "If you want to put him at left tackle, he could do it."

Not that Sewell's asking for that, even if it would ease the QB competition for him.

"No," Sewell said with a smile. "He needs the ball in his hands."

One of the knocks on Hall has been his height (5-foot-9), and he did have one of his 16 pass attempts batted down during Saturday's scrimmage, but he said he can see the field just fine in Gregg Brandon's spread offense.

Still, there have been some adjustments as he returns to a position he once dominated.

"It's much different" than high school, Hall said. "Everybody's fast. Everybody's strong. Everybody's big. You've got to want it more."

He wants it. Better yet, he's got a legitimate shot at it.

And no special-teams progress is going to overshadow that simple, exciting, overdue fact.

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