You never forget your first time — even if it's a disaster. Virginia sophomore Greyson Lambert has traveled that route before at the quarterback position.
Lambert and Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer will make their first starts Saturday for their respective programs. Lambert has the supreme chore of leading U.Va.'s offense against No. 7 UCLA, which the Cavaliers enter as three-touchdown home underdogs. Brewer has the less daunting task of directing Tech's offense against steady, but likely overmatched William and Mary.
As difficult as Lambert's task may be behind a rebuilt offensive line, he at least hopes his first experience as a college starter is nothing like his first outing as a starter in high school. He was a lanky sophomore at Wayne County in Jesup, Ga., in 2009 when he faced Colquitt County.
"We got blown out," said Lambert, surely recalling the 35-6 final score.
No offense to the mighty Packers of Colquitt County, but UCLA poses an even larger problem for Lambert, his teammates and U.Va. coach Mike London, who enters the season with pressure to win now.
All eyes focused on UCLA will zero in on Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley, a junior quarterback who completed 67 percent of his passes last season for 3,071 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions to go along with 748 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
Hundley leads an offense that returns nine starters. Despite U.Va.'s abysmal 2-10 finish last season, its defense is confident behind the leadership of end Eli Harold, linebacker Henry Coley, All-America strong safety Anthony Harris and true freshmen Quin Blanding at free safety and Andrew Brown at tackle.
U.Va. has seen a similar quarterback from the West Coast in Oregon's Marcus Mariota. Of course, U.Va. doesn't have especially fantastic memories of his visit to Scott Stadium last season after Oregon pounded the Cavs 59-10.
"They're just playmakers," U.Va. defensive tackle David Dean said of Hundley and Mariota. "That's why they're up for the Heisman. That's what they do. You put the ball in their hands when you want to win the game. They make great throws, they can kill you with their feet. They're the dual-threat quarterback you want in your backfield."
W&M lacks the star potential UCLA will throw at U.Va., but the Tribe does boast an impressive collection of players from a unit that was second in the Football Championship Subdivision last season in scoring defense, plus a dangerous wide receiver in senior Tre McBride. Like Brewer, W&M sophomore quarterback Steve Cluley will be starting his first game for his program.
Brewer should be able to rely on Tech's stout defense, led by All-America candidate cornerback Kendall Fuller, defensive end Dadi Nicolas and tackle Corey Marshall, to limit W&M's scoring opportunities and make his job easier. Brewer will have to work with a group of running backs that, other than starter J.C. Coleman and still-rehabbing Trey Edmunds, lacks experience.
Still, Brewer, a junior who played in 13 games for Texas Tech before transferring to Virginia Tech, can't wait to get started.
"It's going to be a special moment," Brewer said. "I've had to go through a lot of adversity through the past year, year-and-a-half, and then to be where I'm at right now and be named the starting quarterback at a program like Virginia Tech, it's an honor and a blessing. I'm excited for Saturday."
Running backs Marshawn Williams, a Phoebus High graduate, and Shai McKenzie will join starting wide receiver Isaiah Ford as true freshmen destined for significant playing time. While W&M may not test those first-year players the way Ohio State will in the second week of the season, Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler knows it's going to take a while for the young players to adjust.
"I don't know if it's a test (against W&M)," Loeffler said. "I think it's going to be a flat-out war. Those guys know how to play football.
"You're running out there for the first time, it gets awfully, awfully fast out there that first time. The game will slow down for them the more they get in there … but it'll be a track meet for those young guys at the beginning. That's as expected."
Lambert admits not being ready last season when he came in as a backup to Hampton High graduate David Watford in seven games, but Lambert has had a chance to get used to the speed of the college game. He'll have his readiness tested against a UCLA defense that features eight returning starters, led by linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack.
"I want to win," Lambert said. "I don't really have any personal expectations, I have a lot of team expectations. … It's because we're all on the same page in what we're trying to accomplish. We want to win games, we want to go to a bowl game, we want to win the ACC. We want to do everything that every other team in the ACC wants to do. This time, we believe it."
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun