by Helen Sowell
UVA’s sophomore quarterback, Mike Rocco, no longer waits on the sidelines wondering if or when he’ll be put in the game. He’s now the starter and he’s embraced the responsibility – big time! Head Coach Mike London began the season platooning QB’s but scrapped that plan after the NC State loss. London declared Rocco the solo leader of the offense going into the Miami game and he responded with poise and precision directing a 28-21 victory over the highly favored Hurricanes. In the nationally televised contest, Mike threw for 226 yards, 2 TD’s and a two-point conversion.
The Lynchburg native, the son, grandson and nephew of football coaches, didn’t start playing organized ball until he was about 12 or 13 years old. But he’s been around the game his whole life watching his father and uncle at practice and in games, learning from their players and soaking in the fundamentals. He also tagged along with his older brother, Chris, and his pals, all five years older. From those experiences he quickly developed both physically and mentally and by the 7th grade he took over the junior varsity squad at Liberty Christian Academy facing opponents two and three years his senior. As a freshman, he became the varsity starter and led LCA to the state title his sophomore year.
The 6’3” 210-lb right-hander missed the early part of his senior season with a broken left arm and dislocated left wrist but still received a scholarship offer from Louisville, which he accepted. A coaching change for the Cardinals brought in then-Florida defensive coordinator Charley Strong who had more of a shotgun offense in mind instead of the pro-style Mike was accustomed to. Rocco decided to change his commitment and landed with the Cavaliers two days before high school seniors were allowed to sign national letters-of-intent. At UVA, he’s paired with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor whose complex, timing-based, pro-style scheme demands precision above all else. Mike’s been a quick study, maturing and developing pocket presence, arm strength and confidence. Boisterous and rah-rah he definitely is not but his coaches and teammates are fine with that.
Rocco rarely wavers from his typically reserved and composed demeanor but Coach London understands his temperament and knows he’s competitive and that, he says, is what matters most. The 19-year old is the youngest QB in Cavalier history to win his first two career starts according to records dating back to 1939. After nine games, he’s thrown for 1,719 yards completing 60.1% of his passes and averaging 191 yards per game. He has started every game for the Wahoos who are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. As Rocco’s confidence has risen, so has the offense. He picks up the pre-snap reads and he feels the flow of the game, which, of late, has been rolling in the right direction. Can a shot at the ACC title game be next? Stay tuned.