Watford earns starting quarterback nod
Sophomore's leadership, patience pay off; Cavaliers face challenging opening games
After playing in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011, David Watford was relegated to the sidelines in 2012, forced to listen through a headset as his team stumbled to a disappointing 4-8 finish. This year, however, the sophomore quarterback has been tapped as the lone signal-caller of the revamped Cavalier offense.
The move comes as a relief to an offense plagued by inconsistency and wrought by the quarterback carousel of the last two years. This offseason, coach Mike London and newly installed offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild made it no secret that there would no longer be a quarterback rotation.
“It’s definitely tough when you’re rotating quarterbacks, especially on the offensive line,” senior offensive tackle Morgan Moses said. “It’s different timing for each quarterback.”
This fundamental change to the offense raised the question of who would claim the starting quarterback job, Watford or highly touted redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert. London answered that burning question Aug. 12, when he announced that Watford had beaten out Lambert for the job.
“David was running with the [first team] most of the time during fall camp, was probably a little ahead, and then just played well [in the scrimmages],” Fairchild said. “When we decided to sit and visit about it, it just was apparent he’s the guy that’s going to start the opener.”
Though Fairchild said he and London didn’t go back and evaluate anyone on past performance, he acknowledged that, “it’s hard to ignore that [Watford] played in a college football game and at the quarterback spot.”
The beginning of Watford’s reign as a starter will be a trial by fire. He first must contend with Brigham Young before welcoming a perennial powerhouse in No. 3 Oregon. But London believes that if anyone can lead the Virginia offense back to bowl eligibility, that person is Watford.
“I had the guys vote on leaders … and the number one vote-getter on our team was David Watford,” London said. “We had the Navy Seals come to be with our team and they were assessing the type of leaders without knowing the guys on the team … and after the first day they came in and they said, ‘this guy David Watford is one of your best leaders.’”
Yet last season, London wasn’t convinced that Watford would see the field enough to make his year of eligibility worthwhile, as he would have competed for time with then-junior Michael Rocco and then-sophomore transfer Phillip Sims. Now, after both of last year’s primary signal-callers departed the program this offseason, London has finally rewarded Watford’s humility.
“The fact that he played as a freshman and then we redshirted him as a sophomore, not once did David ever complain about anything,” London said. “He wanted to do what was best for the team. A lot of guys in a playing situation gripe and moan about where they are [and] how come they’re not playing. David, he just closed his mouth, worked out, lifted, ran and studied.”
Watford’s impressive growth into a leader may be a direct result of his decision to accept a redshirt year last season. While it wasn’t an ideal scenario for him, Watford’s self-sacrifice fostered a great deal of respect within the locker room, according to both coaches and teammates.
“It was definitely a tough decision for him,” Moses said. “But for a guy like him to say, ‘yes coach, I’ll sit out and do this,’ speaks a lot about his character. That’s a guy you want in the huddle; you want someone like [him, who is] willing to do the things that nobody else is doing and put his ego aside. [From] a character standpoint, I don’t think you can get any better than Dave.”
Besides providing an opportunity for personal growth, the redshirt year also afforded the opportunity for on-field development. As a freshman, Watford threw for 34.6 yards per game, three touchdowns and four interceptions, while completing a paltry 40.5 percent of his 74 pass attempts. Though he showed impressive flashes, Watford’s inexperience often proved a hindrance on the field.
“Just understanding the flow of the game through a coach’s perspective and how they want to call certain plays in certain situations … that’s really what I got from that [redshirt] year,” Watford said. “I have a much better grasp of the game and I feel like it shows whenever I come out here on the field. I feel like … David right now is leaps and bounds offense-wise ahead of David two years ago.”
Watford also credits the new coaching staff, particularly Fairchild, for his continued offensive development.
“[Fairchild has] really pushed us to be able to know where everybody is going to be, how the line is going to pick up certain blitzes and what coverages we’re going to work certain pass patterns off of,” Watford said. “Coach Fairchild just drills us with that stuff and it’s really paid off.”
Although Watford’s running game was hyped in 2011, he carried the ball 21 times for only 42 yards and zero touchdowns during his freshman campaign. This season Fairchild expects to utilize Watford’s versatility in a way that former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor did not.
“Coach Fairchild is putting in stuff every day to exploit our mobility – and not just mine but the quarterbacks as a whole,” Watford said. “He’s the kind of guy that wants to get the ball to the playmakers and just get the offense flowing. He just wants it to go 100 miles per hour, and that’s what we’ve been working on.”
So although Watford’s first collegiate start Aug. 31 will not be a cupcake game by any means, his coaches and teammates have complete confidence in both the player and the man.
“We all know he can play ball; he wouldn’t be at U.Va. if he couldn’t,” Moses said. “I don’t think you can get any better than Dave. He’s a great leader off and on the field … [and] I’m just looking for him to flourish.”