South’s Johns Wins Cavs QB Job
“I wanted to play basketball in college up until my junior year,” admitted Virginia redshirt junior Matt Johns.
Johns played a good forward on CB South’s basketball team, but hoops would have been a Titanic mistake.
The 6’5” Johns plays quarterback a lot (word in italics) better.
On April 23rd Johns, who saw significant action in the 2014 season, beat out incumbent Greyson Lambert to win UVA’s starting quarterback job.
“Matt did the best job,” Coach Mike London told the Washington Post. (Italics) “He was most productive. He was most efficient. It wasn’t close…Matt clearly did what he was supposed to do.”
Johns appeared in nine games last fall. After Lambert threw two pick-sixes in the season opener against #7 UCLA, Johns played the second half, completing 13-of-22 passes for 154 yards and two scores.
“I started my career at South coming into the middle of the third game,” Johns reminded. “It wasn’t anything eye-opening to me. I took the bull by the horns and ran with it. You have to be ready for the opportunity. Preparation is key.”
Another opportunity emerged three weeks later, when Lambert got hurt at #21 BYU. Johns filled in admirably, completing 14-of-23 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. Johns started the next three games, leading Virginia to consecutive wins and throwing for 325 yards against Duke.
“One of the biggest [adjustments] was being in a huddle,” explained Johns. “I was in a no-huddle offense in my last two years of high school where all I had to do was look at the sideline, see the play and we were off. Whereas in the scheme here, you’re breaking down the play with pre-snap reads. I’m going into a huddle with sometimes 10-12 words for one play.”
Like any quarterback adjusting to Division I, Johns made some mistakes early. And he has corrected them- Johns carries a streak of 65 straight pass attempts without an interception into Virginia’s opener, again against UCLA, on September 5th.
“As a young quarterback, never having had experience, I played more as the season went on,” Johns pointed out. “It’s about seeing things in game speed and game form and getting used to it.
“Towards the end of the year, I might have seen something I hadn’t in a game. Before, I might have taken that risk instead of saying ‘I’ve seen this before. I’m not taking that risk.’ I’ll tuck it and run or get it to my check downs. I would credit the experience, coaching and getting smarter about my decision making,” Johns concluded.
Johns almost always made smart decisions. He won the Cavalier Academic Achievement Award last season and was a member of National Honor Society- in addition to being class Vice President and active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes- at CB South.
Johns played at South for two seasons under coach Dave Rackovan, a former Princeton offensive coordinator. Rackovan’s passion for football deterred Johns from the hardwood and onto the gridiron. “He is one of the reasons I’m in the position that I am today,” Johns praised. “He is still one of my greatest mentors and I keep in touch with him once or twice a week. I can’t thank him enough for what he did for the CB South program.”
Rackovan ran a sophisticated passing attack. “His scheme was to spread the ball out and get different people to touch the ball. It really opened up the field. We were practicing like a college team and that is one of the reasons we were successful at CB South,” Johns noted. “In terms of preparing me for college, he got my footwork ready.” Johns also learned how to read defenses and other football basics that every successful collegian needs to have under their belt.
Johns fondly remembers the SOL while he prepares for the ACC. “My last game, at Garnet Valley, is one of the hardest fought games I’ve ever played in, in terms of losing in the last ten seconds,” Johns recalled. “Beating the Central Bucks schools were always fun games- packed crowds and hometown rivalries. That is what you live for and what it is all about.
“Our Senior Night against Pennridge, clinching playoffs for the first time in three years-that was very exciting. And definitely the last game at War Memorial. We were playing CB East,” continued Johns about the game where his four touchdown passes tied a South record. “There was snow on the ground. We were playing with some of the kids that I grew up playing with and then playing the last game. It was a lot of fun.”
Johns deserves credit for earning Virginia’s starting job, but he and his Cavalier teammates have their work cut out for them. Two of their first four opponents finished in the Associated Press’ final Top 20 poll. They also play Notre Dame early.
The Virginia program has been to just one bowl since 2007 but the Cavs, although finishing 5-7 in ’14, lost two games by four or fewer points. Johns is ready for the challenge.
“That’s everything to us,” Johns described a bowl berth. “That is what we’re working for day in and day out: the post-season. It has been a little while since UVA has been in that situation and it’s time to get back on board to where the program needs to be. We’re excited about the season coming up.”
Photo credit: Philly.com & Virginia.247sports.com
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