David Watford didn't come to Virginia to be a backup quarterback, but he knows that's where he's headed to begin the coming season. In his mind, that's better than at least one alternative.
In July, at the Atlantic Coast Conference Kickoff media event, U.Va. coach Mike London warmed up to the idea of leaving options on the table for Watford to switch positions to wide receiver. So, if the backup role behind starter Greyson Lambert doesn't thrill Watford, would a move to another position?
No way. Not today and not tomorrow. Regardless of where he's at on the depth chart, he's a quarterback for life.
"I don't think of myself as any other position," said Watford, a Hampton High graduate who started all 12 games last season in U.Va.'s 2-10 campaign, completing 57 percent of his passes for 2,202 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. "I think of myself as a quarterback because that's what I played all through high school. That's what I came to college to play, that's what I want to play and that's what I'm going to play.
"I don't want to look at myself as a receiver. … I believe in my abilities, and I know I can be a good quarterback on this team and help win some games."
After spring practices were done, and Lambert had taken hold of the top spot on the depth chart, Watford didn't look to move on to another spot on the field. Instead, he went about the business of trying to make himself a better quarterback.
He went back to San Diego to visit noted quarterback guru George Whitfield, whom Watford also trained with last year. In those post-spring practice sessions with Whitfield, Watford also worked with several other college quarterbacks, including Notre Dame's Everett Golson, Baylor's Bryce Petty, Michigan State's Connor Cook, Louisiana State's Brandon Harris, Tulane's Tanner Lee and Nebraska's Johnny Stanton.
"We did it all," said Watford, a junior. "From top to bottom, we covered it all."
The end result of Watford's latest venture to the West Coast was a quarterback who had gained more knowledge regarding his preferred position. Watford even said U.Va. offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild asked for some of Watford's notes he'd taken on drills Whitfield runs to be used in U.Va.'s practices.
U.Va. wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, who is Watford's cousin and also a former Hampton High quarterback, talked in the offseason with Watford about overcoming the disappointment of last season.
"I think the thing with him is he has such high expectations to do a good job," said Hagans, who added he only spoke briefly with Watford about the past because Hagans didn't want to overstep his boundaries and do Fairchild's job. "You can't blame one person for how the season went. We all played a part, coaches included. I try to tell him, 'You can't shoulder the whole burden. You've got to be responsible for how you play, and ultimately you're judged by wins and losses, but you can't shoulder the whole burden.'
"The main thing for him is to bounce back. Ever since Greyson has been named the starter, he's got to fight back for what he wants. … I think he's up for the challenge."
Hagans can empathize with what Watford is going through. In 2002, as a redshirt freshman quarterback at U.Va., Hagans started the first two games against Colorado State and Florida State, but he struggled against FSU and was replaced in that game by Matt Schaub, who went on to start for all of '02 and '03.
"The only thing I told myself is no matter what, Schaub went on to be a hell of a player, so it was the best decision for the team," said Hagans, who also played receiver and returned kicks at U.Va. before returning to the starting quarterback role in '04. "There (were) other ways for me that I was able to get on the field and help us win.
"If Greyson is the guy we decide to go with for the rest of the season, and that's best for the team, I think (Watford is) such a team-oriented guy, he'll support that and find a way or a role that he can get on the field and help us win in whatever capacity that may be."
For now, Watford is still in a competition in preseason, but the competition is for the No. 2 quarterback job. Matt Johns, who like Lambert is a sophomore, is pushing for the top backup role. At least with Watford's ability to run, Fairchild said there's a possibility he could be used in special packages.
"David is a good athlete, and obviously, he can run and there's some things he can bring to the table," Fairchild said. "We are taking a look at that. As we get closer to UCLA [the Aug. 30 season-opener], we can plug in a little more of the specifics, but that is on the table right now."
In the spring, London and Watford talked about Watford not living up to expectations in the offseason. Specifics regarding those expectations have not been revealed, but it's clear Watford isn't taking remaining opportunities for granted.
"I'm not depressed or sad or down about the situation," Watford said. "I'm positive about everything. I'm pushing myself every day. I'm pushing Greyson every day. I'm pushing Matt every day. It's a competition still, and if Greyson is the starter and he's named the starter, then so be it. I'm going to prepare every day like I'm the starter, and I'm going to push him every day to get better and lead this team, just like I'd want him to do that for me."
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun