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BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
CHARLOTTESVILLE--When the Virginia coaching staff was trying to decide on a starting quarterback for yesterday's spring game, it went to unconventional methods.
Cavaliers offensive coordinator Mike Groh told Peter Lalich, Scott Deke and Marc Verica to choose a number from 1 to 50 and whoever came closest to the one Groh had in his head would get the nod.
Deke, a fifth-year senior, used his veteran savvy to guess the exact number: 27.
He then started yesterday's game, followed by Verica and Lalich.
Cavaliers head coach Al Groh said the trio will enter fall practice with equal opportunity to earn the starting job, despite Lalich's being the only one with any game experience.
"This is not Marc's position or Scott's position or Pete's position," Groh said. "It's the quarterback position at the University of Virginia. As long as the quarterback position plays well, that's enough."
Groh said all three quarterbacks played well yesterday, but the statistics say otherwise.
Deke was the most impressive, going 17-of-23 for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
Verica was 17-of-25 for 110 yards and a touchdown, but Lalich completed just 6-of-18 passes for 72 yards and three interceptions.
Groh defended Lalich's showing. He said raw numbers don't show what offensive linemen or receivers were in the game.
"If you're trying to form any conclusions based on [statistics], you're fooling yourself," he said.
The Cavaliers need a quarterback to step up, because two-year starter Jameel Sewell was ruled academically ineligible in January and is no longer enrolled in school.
Lalich appeared in eight games last year as a true freshman. He threw two touchdowns and one interception in 61 attempts.
It was assumed by many he'd be the successor to Sewell.
Lalich was testy when asked if he was fine with the open competition.
"I don't have anything to say about that," he said.
Verica and Deke are certainly thankful for the opportunity to compete for the job.
Groh said the team hasn't had a spring practice where all three quarterbacks played as well as they did yesterday. He said they all "made good decisions and ran the team well."
"We haven't really anointed a starter at this point," said Verica, a sophomore. "Our focus is to come out here every day and get better. That will continue to be our focus in the upcoming months. We can't get caught up in 'Who's the guy?' at this point. We'll see where the chips fall in camp."
Yesterday, they fell in Deke's favor. The California native was sharp throughout.
He has been looking forward to the opportunity to play ever since the coaching staff asked him back for a fifth season.
Deke was prepared to head into the work force if not for the chance to play college football again.
"The opportunity to play football at the University of Virginia and be a student for another year was just a no-brainer," Deke said.
Deke said Groh didn't promise him the starting job when he requested his services for another year, but Groh did present an opportunity to earn it through practice performance.
Groh has held up his end of the bargain so far.
"He gives everyone a chance at every position," Deke said. "That's the way we get the best players in the game."
Culpeper High School graduates Terence Fells-Danzer and Curt Orshoski (both redshirt freshmen) saw the first significant action of their careers yesterday.
Fells-Danzer, an inside linebacker, made three tackles, including a crushing blow on tight end Andrew Devlin. Orshoski played fullback.
Massaponax graduate Anthony Mihota had an eventful day as the Cavaliers' backup center. He had two snaps sail over the head of the quarterback and one hit the ground. North Stafford graduate Patrick Slebonick, a junior guard, sat out while still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Three Rock Weir awards, which are given to the most improved players in the spring, were presented to senior tight end John Phillips and freshman tackle Landon Bradley for offense, while linebacker Denzel Burrell picked up the defensive honor.
Phillips, junior cornerback Vic Hall, senior running back Cedric Peerman and senior linebacker Clint Sintim were selected as team co-captains for the upcoming season.
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526