2015 Football: Johns confident and in charge for Cavs this season

Virginia quarterback Matt Johns scrambles during a game last season. Courtesy photo/Virginia Athletics Communications

CHARLOTTESVILLE — An opportunity landed in Matt Johns’ lap and he clearly made the most of it.

In the University of Virginia’s football season opener last year against UCLA, Johns came off the bench to almost rally the Cavaliers against a Top 25 team.

Things couldn’t be more different this season for the junior as Johns is the clear starting quarterback for the Cavaliers.

“It’s more fun this year,” Johns said of being the starting quarterback this year. “I know things. I see things a lot faster. The game’s moving a lot slower. I’m just playing with an open mind and having fun. Sometimes you get away from that. I think that’s important to harp on. …Let’s have fun.”

Things weren’t as much fun for Johns in his first two seasons. As a freshman he didn’t attempt a single pass. Last year he was battling Greyson Lambert for the starting job, and Lambert was given the nod to start the season against UCLA.

Johns said he always felt he was in Lambert’s shadow, but when the Cavaliers fell behind 21-7 in the second quarter it was his chance to shine. Johns went 13 for 22 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

“I took the initiative that I can play here. I want to show people that. That was my opportunity and I wanted to make the most of it and fortunately I did,” Johns said. “…I think I gained a lot of respect from my teammates.”

Johns and Lambert shared the quarterback duties for the rest of the season. Johns finished with 1,109 passing yards, completing 89 of 162 pass attempts and eight touchdowns.

Johns won the starting job during spring practice and Lambert eventually transferred to the University of Georgia.

“Matt’s done an excellent job thus far,” Virginia head coach Mike London said. “He has excellent command of the offense in every way. … He’s really shown himself to be the guy that’s not just concerned with what he has to do, but also the surrounding cast and I believe that’s why I respect him so much and call him a leader.”

Johns’ leadership ability showed during the summer as he got some of the players together for 7-on-7’s. He said he also tried to learn as much of the playbook as possible so he could help out the other players.

“I wanted to learn every little detail of the offense and be able to teach the young guys,” Johns said. “When the coaches aren’t out there in the summer someone has to know it. If they have a question, who are they going to go to? If no one knows the offense then we’re in trouble. I really took the initiative to learn the offense very distinctively, and at the same time know that’s going to [help me] on the field to be more productive.”

Johns lost wide receiver Darius Jennings to graduation, but the Cavaliers should still have a solid nucleus of receivers. Senior Canaan Severin and sophomore Andre Levrone finished spring practice at the top of the depth charts.

The Cavaliers were also bolstered by the addition of University of North Carolina transfer T.J. Thorpe, but he will miss the first part of the season after suffering a broken clavicle in preseason.

“They’re a lot of fun. They bring a lot of different things to the team,” Johns said. “T.J. can take the top off. Canaan is going to win his one-on-one matchups. He’s going to get open. He’s going to make plays — that’s what he does. I’m really excited about T.J. Thorpe — I think he brings a lot to the table.”

The Cavaliers are trying to improve on a disappointing 5-7 season, including 3-5 in the ACC Coastal division.

Johns said he thinks the team just needs to take things one day at a time.

“Everyone’s 0-0, but we just want to attack every single day with a new open mindset and just compete and do our job,” Johns said. “I think if we just focus on the task at hand day in and day out, we’ll reap the benefits in the future.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com