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His Own Man

Experience, confidence and execution. A quarterback needs these three things to excel. And a team needs these from him to win. As for success in 2000, Virginia quarterback Dan Ellis is already two-thirds of the way there.

His experience brings the Cavaliers a valuable factor: a senior quarterback with a full year's worth of ACC play under his belt. After two seasons backing up Aaron Brooks, Ellis stepped into the starter's role last year and started all 11 games in which he played. His first year as the starting QB was not a dream season, but Ellis said he knows the experience he gained was meaningful in the long run.

"The most important thing I learned from last year is being comfortable in what you're doing and what you can do," Ellis said. "In the first five games of the season last year, I wasn't really comfortable with the system. Now I am, and that's the biggest thing - being more comfortable."

And with the comfort comes confidence. Sure, ups and downs plagued the first part of the 1999 season, when Ellis threw three touchdown passes against a capable Brigham Young defense and also hurled three interceptions against an injured North Carolina squad. But despite inconsistency and frequent criticism from media and fans, the Exton, Pa., native turned in a superb final month. Ellis completed 16 of 19 passes for a career-high 363 yards and a school-record six touchdown passes against Buffalo and led the Cavs to a come-from-behind victory at Maryland, completing 5 of 5 passes in a final drive that included the winning touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining.

He might not be as renowned as Virginia Tech's Michael Vick or Florida State's Chris Weinke, but Ellis and the rest of the Cavaliers are confident going into 2000. After all, Ellis' 60.5 percent passing efficiency last year was the nation's eighth-best mark and the third-highest percentage in school history. He also tossed 20 touchdown strikes, only one less than the school record.

"I think [Ellis] will be much improved," Virginia coach George Welsh said. "He really did have a good year [last year] and finished up strong the last four weeks of the season. But just norm al progress means he's going to be better. Decision-making is where experience comes in, where you decide a fraction of a second sooner, and he should be more accurate throwing the ball. Those two things are going to make a big difference."

So with experience and confidence already under his belt, there's just one more element left in the 6-foot-2, 218-pound quarterback's plan for a successful 2000 season: execution.

Will Dan Ellis perform and victoriously carry the offense in his final season at Virginia? With his roller coaster junior year, the loss of All-American tailback Thomas Jones, pressure and anticipation await Ellis in 2000. Many have criticized the quarterback, and many have their doubts in his ability to handle the demand, fulfill the expectations and step into the spotlight and deliver.

But that's not going to stop Ellis.

"There's always going to be that one person who's not going to like me," Ellis said. "I know going out there that I'm not going to make everybody happy and no matter what happens, someone's going to be saying that I shouldn't be playing. So I go out and I play for myself, I play for my teammates and I play for the ACC championship. I'm not going to worry about what everyone is thinking."

Only the next few months will tell whether or not Ellis brings forth the best season of his career. But one thing is clear: With the enlarged and enhanced Scott Stadium and his comfort as starting quarterback, Ellis is undoubtedly ready to kick off and execute in the anticipated 2000 season.

"I'm just really excited," Ellis said. "Obviously [the stadium expansion] adds a lot, being able to go out against BYU and have 25,000 extra people in there. We have a lot of potential and a chance to be really good. It's going to be a great atmosphere"


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