Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Cavaliers tight end on a familiar route
Jake McGee is drawing comparisons to another prep school quarterback who played tight end at UVa, current Pittsburgh Steelers star Heath Miller.
Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times
UVa's Jake McGee (left) tackles Penn State's Evan Lewis on Saturday. McGee was named the Cavs' special teams player of the game.
Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times
Virginia tight end Jake McGee (left) makes a one-handed catch against Richmond in the Cavaliers' season opener.
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Aaron McFarling's blog
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Having passed on one Collegiate School quarterback who became a first-team All-ACC selection and now starts in the National Football League, Virginia would have been well-advised not to make the same mistake twice.
And, yet, it almost happened.
Until Mike London was hired as Virginia football coach in the winter of 2009-2010, it looked like Collegiate School quarterback Jake McGee would be playing for London at the University of Richmond.
Former UVa head coach Al Groh and his staff were not alone. McGee, one of the heroes of Virginia's 17-16 victory over Penn State this past Saturday, did not have a single FBS offer at the time of his Aug. 29 commitment to Richmond.
"Going into it, Jake definitely wanted to play quarterback and wanted to be recruited as a quarterback," Collegiate coach Mark Palyo said Tuesday, "but, he was open-minded for other positions. To specifically say why some of the I-A or FBS teams did not come by and offer Jake, I honestly cannot tell you."
McGee, listed by the Cavaliers at 6 foot 5 and 235 pounds, said he has gained 30 pounds since his arrival in Charlottesville in the summer of 2010. But, he had been practicing for only a matter of days before he inquired about a move to tight end.
It was the same move made by another high school quarterback, Heath Miller, in the fall of 2001. Miller finished his career as a first-team All-American, the John Mackey Award winner as college football's best tight end and a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. One night after McGee caught four passes for 99 yards against Penn State, Miller caught a touchdown pass against Denver on Sunday night.
Coincidentally, McGee and Miller both wear No. 83, "but that wasn't his number here," said McGee, who is familiar with a mural of Miller, who then wore No. 89, outside the UVa football office.
Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor never coached Miller, but he coached offense for seven years in the NFL.
"The things that I think will make Jake great are, number one, he has great catching ability," Lazor said Saturday. "He is a fierce competitor, Jake has got a great toughness to him. Nothing becomes too big for him. Somewhere, someone will be saying I should be throwing it to him a lot more."
Not only did the UVa staff select McGee as its offensive player of the game Saturday, but he was also the special teams player of the game.
With Virginia facing a fourth-and-15 from its 20, Alec Vozenilek seemingly outkicked his coverage with a 56-yard punt. However, McGee, the first man down the field, stopped Jesse Della Valle after a 4-yard return.
There's more to playing tight end than receiving, as Miller, a punishing blocker for the Steelers, has attested.
"I always played catch as a kid," said McGee, whose grandfather lettered for Virginia's baseball team in 1960 and took Jake to UVa football games as a youth. "Blocking is not something I really did till I got here. But, I played a lot of defense in high school. I always liked to hit."
In the final game for Collegiate, McGee threw four touchdown passes, carried the ball 26 times for 145 yards and three touchdowns, scored on a two-point conversion and intercepted a pass.
Collegiate's opponent that day was Liberty Christian Academy, quarterbacked by McGee's future teammate, Michael Rocco.
"I can only say so much or the ball might not come my way," McGee said Monday.
Rocco and McGee roomed together on the weekend before national letter-of-intent day in 2010. McGee had committed days earlier while Rocco, who had reopened his recruiting after committing to Louisville, hadn't made up his mind.
Potentially, they could have been rivals, "but I was just ecstatic when I heard Jake was going to UVa," said Frank Rocco, Michael's dad and the LCA head coach then and now. "He's the kind of kid I would drool to coach."
McGee didn't commit to Virginia publicly until Jan. 26, six weeks after London was hired, but there seemed to be little doubt that the new UVa staff wanted him.
"To set the record straight, I didn't contact him first," London said. "I don't want to mess with guys [who have] committed to a school. He contacted me first. We talked about [him] having to talk to the Richmond coaches and decommitting to them."
McGee may have fallen through the Division I-A cracks but it was hard for London to miss him.
"I think one of the advantages of being at the University of Richmond and them being around the corner is that you hear about things he's done," London said. "Once he was identified as an athletic player at quarterback [and] maybe tight end, the interest level went up high."
The Cavaliers should have known not to overlook the Virginia Prep League, which turned out future Virginia All-American Chris Long from St. Anne's-Belfield in Charlottesville. But, in the summer of 2006, after the Cavaliers had taken a commitment from quarterback Peter Lalich from West Springfield, they passed on a Collegiate quarterback with UVa ties.
That was Russell Wilson, who passed for more than 3,000 yards in three straight seasons, two at North Carolina State and one at Wisconsin. Now, he's starting for the Seattle Seahawks while Lalich is at California University of Pennsylvania, having started one game in his UVa career before being dismissed from the program.
Collegiate currently has a 6-6 quarterback, Wilton Speight, who was injured as a junior last season and has since reclassified, making him a prospect for the entering class of 2014.
"People would come by and ask about Russell and they'd talk about defensive back," said Palyo, the Collegiate offensive coordinator at the time, "and I'd say, 'Well, great, he could play that. He started three years at cornerback for us as well, but he's a quarterback.'
"I can't figure out what it takes for these [recruiters] to come around and see somebody. To me, Jake was capable of playing a couple of positions at the college level and tight end was just one of them."