Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall did not hesitate when asked if he had settled on a starting quarterback at the end of spring practices. Without missing a beat, he named Bryce Perkins the starter as UVA heads into the summer.
“It’s his job to lose,” Mendenhall said. “He has moved the team most effectively and I think not only does he have the coaches’ trust but he has the team’s trust.”
While being named the starter could trigger relief for some, that’s not the case for Perkins. When the junior college transfer enrolled at Virginia, it marked his third college stop. An injury short-circuited his time at Arizona State and he worked his way back at Arizona Western Community College.
As a veteran at college practices, Perkins actually thinks the starter’s role brings increased scrutiny and heightened competition.
“It’s a target on your back,” Perkins said. “It’s more pressure when you have the job then when you’re competing for the job because then you have to do everything right. Everybody behind you is aiming to take the spot. Everybody’s trying to get the number one spot, so just keeping that foot on the pedal, just making sure that I do the little things right. When I can get in the film room. Mental reps, physical reps. Just making sure I stay on top of my game so it doesn’t happen.”
For the offseason months leading up to preseason practices, that means a combination of workouts, film study, and throwing sessions with his receivers. It also means continued work with the playbook.
The Cavaliers have shifted toward a more option-based spread-style offense as Mendenhall enters his third year at UVA. It’s a system that the coaching staff is more comfortable with thanks to its use at BYU with the likes of Taysom Hill at quarterback.
That’s where Perkins enters the picture at quarterback. To make those plays work most effectively, Perkins will need to make the right reads for the scheme and then try to take advantage of his athletic ability at the right times. He’s got good elusiveness in the pocket and a clear burst of speed in the open field. To get to use either one of those, he will need to be well versed in the playbook.
That part doesn’t feel too daunting, though. Perkins has plenty of practice with changing systems and changing terminology because of the path his career has taken.
“To be honest I think I have a really good grasp of it,” Perkins said. “Every year at ASU, I had three different offensive coordinators, so each year the playbook changed, and then I went to junior college and playbook changed again, so I’m used to getting a different playbook and learning it quick. Definitely in the QB room we do a good job of helping each other so we’re all on the same page.”
The decision to name Perkins the starter marks the second time in Mendenhall’s brief tenure that the Hoos will go with a transfer at the top of the depth chart.
Kurt Benkert left East Carolina and joined the Virginia program two seasons ago and started 24 times over his two seasons in Charlottesville. Benkert finished No. 3 all-time in the UVA record book with 5,759 passing yards and 46 passing touchdowns. He signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons this spring. Benkert, however, did not have the benefit of spring practices as he did not come to the Cavaliers until the summer. He eventually won the job in the preseason with UVA naming him starter in late August.
Perkins, on the other hand, enrolled at Virginia in January. He led Arizona Western Community College to the 2017 NJCAA Championship Game last fall. During the season, he passed for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 353 yards and four touchdowns. When he arrived on Grounds, he began twice weekly sessions with his teammates to work on routes, play concepts, and timing.
That helped Perkins get off to a good start this spring and he grabbed the starter spot by the end of those 15 practices. He wants that to be just the beginning of his story with the Hoos, though.
“It was huge,” Perkins said. “Getting here in the winter time. Just the players, we’d go out every Wednesday and Saturday before spring ball and we would throw, work routes, work concepts. We’d work strength. Now we’re familiar with it and we can just run like this, run like this, run like this. When you operate at a fast speed, you don’t have to think about anything. When you keep doing that [snaps fingers quickly], it allows the offense to feel better. That’s why I think we did a good job in the offseason leading up to spring. In the spring, just keep it going and keep stacking success.”