Virginia Football Quarterback Notes: Merrick Walks On, Rector’s Honor, & More

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Kurt Benkert returns at the starting quarterback for the Virginia football team.
Kurt Benkert, set to represent Virginia at the ACC Football Kickoff this week, picked up some company at his position this week. ~ Kris Wright

When Sonny Abramson decided to leave the team and graduate transfer Marvin Zanders didn’t make it to Charlottesville after all, the Virginia football program’s depth chart at quarterback grew thin earlier this summer. Only four players occupied the QB line on the roster and two of those shared duties elsewhere on the team.

The Cavaliers addressed that spot with a summer addition a little more than two weeks before the start of practice. Matthew Merrick walked on at UVA after spending two years at the University of Texas. He redshirted in 2015 and did not appear in any games last fall. In the spring, Merrick left the Longhorns program in part to focus on academics and he just finished a summer session at the school last week. His father Nick Merrick played at Virginia in the 1980’s.

While Merrick does not address an ‘in case of emergency’ plan on the depth chart – he’s not expected to be eligible this year per transfer rules barring any changes according to The Daily Progress – he does provide depth at the position for practices this fall and for future years. That’s important for the program.

After all, UVA still features just four other players at quarterback. Returning starter Kurt Benkert is expected to take the lion’s share of the reps and snaps this fall, but as a senior this will be his last season. True freshman Lindell Stone out of Woodberry Forest joined the program after he threw for 3,380 yards and 38 touchdowns as a high school senior. Stone appears likely to be the No. 2 quarterback this fall because the only other QBs on the roster are splitting time at other positions.

De’Vante Cross remains the other candidate at No. 2 , though he continues to work heavily at receiver as well. That doesn’t preclude a Marques Hagans type route back to the QB slot, but the plan for now appears to keep Cross in a slash style role. Joe Spaziani rounds out the listed quarterbacks, but he contributes more of on special teams to date. He saw action in four games last fall as a long snapper when Richard Burney and Zach Bradshaw suffered injuries.

None of those players look like options as a scout team quarterback in practices, a role that Cross filled at times last year as a redshirt. That’s where Merrick possibly could make a quick impact. He started for three seasons at Cistercian Preparatory School in Texas before choosing the Longhorns. He threw for 2,469 yards with 34 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a high school senior.

Beyond the 2017 season, however, Merrick adds competition to the race to replace Benkert in 2018. Cross, Stone, and Merrick all could be involved in that picture along with commit Wyatt Rector, a dual threat quarterback out of Leesburg, Florida.

Rector Selected For Blue-Grey All-American Bowl Quarterback

The aforementioned Wyatt Rector picked up a big honor this week when he was selected to participate in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl. That game is scheduled to be held in Dallas on Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. That game selects 90 players from around the country to participate.

Rector begins his senior season at Leesburg on a mission to return from a torn ACL as a junior. Prior to that, he put up some strong numbers as a sophomore. He passed for 1,132 yards with 11 touchdowns and rushed for 1,011 yards with 17 touchdowns that season.

He posted on Twitter that the Blue-Grey selection at the home of the Dallas Cowboys is a “dream come true.”

Benkert To Help Represent UVA At ACC Kickoff

While the future of the Virginia quarterback position gains some competition, returning starter Kurt Benkert remains the face of the present. Benkert will represent the team along with safety Quin Blanding at the ACC Football Kickoff on Thursday and Friday this week. The preseason media poll and preseason All-ACC teams will be released next week.

Benkert started 10 games last season and put up some strong numbers for the Hoos. He threw for 2,552 yards, good enough for the sixth best season all-time in the program. He also tossed 21 touchdown passes, tied for second most in a season. With 421 yards against Central Michigan, Benkert set a new school record for passing yards in a game. His five touchdowns in that same game tied for second best as a Cavalier.

The senior QB told reporters during the spring that he feels better physically than last fall. Doctors cleared him to play without a knee brace that followed a 2015 ACL injury and he had time to recover from a lingering shoulder injury suffered against Connecticut in September. Benkert also reported that he lost 10 to 12 pounds before the start of spring practice.

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