Mike London has had a rough go of it in his four seasons as head football coach at Virginia, twice going 4-8 and last year finishing 2-10.
And yet, he enters 2014 with optimism – and plenty of it.
“Last year, we had four seniors on the team, and this year we have 22,” London said on The MoJo Show. “We have nine starters back on defense, seven back on offense. Kevin Parks, who is the ACC leading rusher, is returning. And we finally have a quarterback situation where our two quarterbacks basically have as much experience as nine of the other likely starters (on) the other teams (in our conference). We feel good about where we are.”
Those two quarterbacks are David Watford, who threw for 2,202 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, and Greyson Lambert, who threw for 340 yards, one touchdown and two picks.
Watford, who also ran for 208 yards and three scores, had an up-and-down 2013 season. He started slow, then reeled off four straight games with 200-plus passing yards – including 376 in a 35-25 loss against Georgia Tech last October – before averaging just 121.8 passing yards per game in the final month of the season.
Virginia, which started 2-1, ended on a nine-game losing streak.
“As we all know, the quarterback position is the guy who touches the ball 100 percent of the time,” London said. “We’ve (been in situations) where you have guys with inexperience. You have guys who haven’t taken many snaps. As we all know, whether it’s the NFL or college, if you got a guy behind center that can either distribute the ball or do the things he does with his God-given, natural ability, then you got a chance to win. We’re finally out of this stage of having a new guy, a young guy, a guy who hasn’t played (a lot against good competition). I believe that both (Watford and Lambert) have put us position where there’s experience, there’s leadership. We feel very confident coming out of spring practice. Everybody’s on the same page.”
Watford and Lambert will certainly have a talented playmaker in the backfield. The aforementioned Parks has rushed for 700+ yards in all three of his seasons in Charlottesville. Last year, he finished with 1,031 rushing yards, 329 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns (11 rush, one receiving).
While the offense figures to put up some points, the defense should get a boost from a pair of stud recruits: tackle Andrew Brown, who was the 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Quin Blanding, the top-ranked safety in the country. Both are in-state recruits, as Brown is from Chesapeake, and Blanding is from Virginia Beach.
“We had one of the best recruiting classes Virginia’s had in a long time,” London said.
In review, Virginia has a lot of seniors, a lot of returning starters, experience at the skill positions and a top-notch recruiting class.
So like we said, London is optimistic.
“There’s a lot of pieces that are in place,” he said. “It’s an older team, a more experienced team. The locker room’s different. A lot of the players that were productive for us last year are back. We feel all the pieces are together and in place for us to have a very productive year.”