It's déjà vu at the Virginia football training camp this August.
Quarterback Jameel Sewell, after a year hiatus from college, is back on the field with his No. 10 jersey and confident stride to boot.
Indeed, looking at him it is almost like nothing has changed. He’s still a good runner that can buy time in the pocket. He’s still an inconsistent passer, particularly from over 15 yards. Most importantly, for the third straight season, he is a part of a major quarterback battle.
However, things are not always what they seem, particularly in college football. What has changed for the Hermitage High graduate is what might make Sewell surprise everyone coming into his senior season in Charlottesville, Va.
Sewell’s last year at Virginia was a roller coaster few have ever experienced. He went from a fierce battle over true freshman Pete Lalich for the starter’s role, to a seven-game winning streak and to Virginia’s first Gator Bowl appearance in nearly fifteen years.
In Jacksonville, Fla. Sewell helped lead his team to a 28-14 lead over the Texas Tech Red Raiders with only eight minutes to go. Virginia coach Al Groh was tantalizingly close to matching the school record for wins in a season and notch a big victory on his resume.
Then, disaster struck for the Cavaliers.
Sewell went out with an injury and Lalich was thrust into the game. The air came out of the sails for Virginia so quickly that the Cavaliers had no chance. When Lalich fumbled the ball inside the ten, the Red Raiders spelled blood and walked away with victory.
Sewell’s bad news continued just a few weeks later when it was announced he had been ruled academically ineligible for next season.
The sophomore now had to wonder what the future had in store for him.
Should he try to make the grade and return for next season? Should he transfer and sit out a year?
There were no easy answers, but then again, Sewell’s entire career at Virginia has been anything but easy.
Sewell was literally thrown into the fire his freshman year at Virginia. The team was Christian Olsen’s to lose and he quickly did in 2006 for the Cavaliers after a woeful performance to open the season against the Pittsburgh Panters.
When back-up quarterback Kevin McCabe had two interceptions leading to touchdowns for the Western Michigan Broncos, Groh pulled the plug and put his trust in the young Sewell before halftime.
Sewell’s debut was respectable, going 7-of-10 for 51 yards, however, his team failed to score any points and the Cavaliers suffered one of their more humiliating losses at home in the Groh era.
What transpired after that debut has been one rocky road for Virginia fans to stomach.
Sewell has yet to find the consistency that quarterbacks need in order to be successful. For every good drive he has in a game, the next drive he may overshoot a wide-open receiver by five or ten yards. It was almost like he suffered from dual personality.
“Bad Sewell” would throw interceptions and make terrible decisions while in the pocket. While his predecessor Marques Hagans did a good job of knowing when to run or pass when the play broke down, Sewell almost never seemed to get it right.
Sometimes he bailed too early and was in no man’s land, other times it appeared he was waiting for the grass to grow and a defensive lineman soon gave him a closer look.
One need not look far for examples of “Bad Sewell” rearing his ugly head.
11-of-23 for 87 yards against Wyoming with two interceptions may be the pinnacle, but let’s not forget the 15-of-31 for 115 yards and two interceptions against Georgia Tech or 9-of-14 for 60 yards against Duke.
It’s little wonder that Sewell has had to fight off contenders for the starting position.
Then again, every time you thought you had Sewell figured out, along would come the “Good Sewell.”
Sewell simply found ways to win his sophomore year. No matter how much he struggled in the second half, he would bring it all together to get the victory by miraculously finding a rhythm and marching the team to victory.
The quintessential example of this was against Middle Tennessee State, a game the Cavaliers had to win and were on the verge of losing and derailing a four-game winning streak.
A Sewell interception had given the Blue Raiders a 21-20 lead, but when the Virginia defense picked up the critical stop, “Good Sewell” made an impressive appearance.
Shaking off the pick, Sewell confidently threw Virginia down the field going 4-of-5 for 63 yards with less than two minutes to go. A late field goal gave the Cavaliers the victory and “Good Sewell” had a reputation he would bolster again and again in 2007.
Sure he has plenty of question marks and concerns, he can drive Virginia fans to an early grave but he is a winner.
So imagine the concern many had when it was found out that Sewell would not be at the University of Virginia in 2008. That concern only grew when Pete Lalich’s troubles on and off the field forced him to transfer and Marc Verica’s interceptions cost Virginia a chance at a bowl game.
Well, Sewell was not crying at home while all this transpired down in Charlottesville. He could have felt sorry for himself and his situation but instead he did what he does best; he went to work.
Sewell was working at Piedmont Community College and even found time to be the quarterbacks coach at Charlottesville High School. The entire time he was keeping himself in shape and keeping his hunger for a return to the university he had grown to love.
“He did not want to quit on this team,” teammate and fellow quarterback candidate Vic Hall said to the Daily Progress.
Well Sewell’s hard work has paid off. He is back in good academic standing and is poised for a return this fall to Scott Stadium. Better yet, he is still in position to graduate from one of the top universities in the nation.
Sewell is a story with an ending yet to be written, but judging from the first few chapters, readers should expect plenty of drama and intrigue. With three experienced options at quarterback, playing time will be a true challenge for all the competitors.
Earning his spot under center will not be easy for Sewell, and that’s just how he likes it.
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