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The redshirt-freshman would be the first walk-on to start on UVa’s offensive line in recent memory.
Redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo is still listed as UVa’s No. 1 center heading into the Cavaliers’ opener against BYU.
“What I noticed about him was, he was a scrapper,” Virginia OL coach Scott Wachenheim said of center Jackson Matteo (67).
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At the exit meeting that coincided with the end of spring practice, assistant Scott Wachenheim had a scoop for his Virginia offensive linemen.
Redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo, a walk-on from Broad Run High School in Loudoun County, would enter the offseason as the Cavaliers’ No. 1 center.
“I’m thinking, ‘Dang, did we give up that many sacks in the spring game?’ ” Luke Bowanko, the Cavs’ starting center in 2012, said.
Days earlier, UVa’s offensive line had allowed an unusually high number of sacks, 14, in the Orange-Blue scrimmage that traditionally brings spring practice to a close. However, that was with plays ruled dead as soon as the quarterback was touched.
Moreover, Bowanko hadn’t lost his starting job. He simply was being moved to guard.
“When you’re coming off a 4-8 year, everybody’s job — mine included — is up for evaluation,” Wachenheim said last week. “We’re looking at every player to try and get the five best players on the field.”
Actually, sophomore center Ross Burbank was with the first offense Friday at UVa’s last open practice.
“First, I wanted to see if Matteo could make all the calls without Luke Bowanko next to him,” Wachenheim said. “Secondly, I wanted to see how Burbank would do against the first defensive line. As of right now, [Matteo] still is the starter.”
Matteo (pronounced Muh-TAY-o) wasn’t exactly an unknown in high school. As a junior at Broad Run, he accepted an offer from Temple. As a senior, he was named first-team All-Metro by The Washington Post as an offensive tackle.
Shortly thereafter, he was offered preferred walk-on spots by Virginia and Virginia Tech.
“I didn’t really feel comfortable decommitting [and] taking a preferred walk-on spot because there is a risk in there,” Matteo said, “but I stuck with my gut.”
He decommitted two weeks before signing day.
“Coach Wachenheim called me up,” Matteo said, “and he said, ‘Jackson, I heard about the news, What are you thinking?’ I had 14 days to make a decision.”
In the end, Matteo had scholarship offers from 10 schools, mostly from the Mid-American Conference.
“My parents have stuck with me through every decision I’ve made in my life.” he said. “Life isn’t about a sprint. It’s about a marathon.
“You can go somewhere else and get the [scholarship] money right away, or you can go to the University of Virginia, where the education will take you further than just football.”
Matteo isn’t sure why he wasn’t recruited more heavily. He played on state-championship teams as a sophomore and junior, and he was a starter in his final two seasons.
When he arrived in Charlottesville last summer, he was listed at 6 foot 5 and 255 pounds. He was up to 295 pounds when last measured.
“I played at 275 my senior year in high school; then, I played basketball and I shed fat,” he said. “I came in here light and that’s the answer to that.
“How do I gain 40 pounds? That’s all due to Randy Bird, our nutritionist. It’s not just about coach Wachenheim and coach London. It’s also about the behind-the-scenes people.”
He didn’t dunk much in basketball “but I was beating up people in the post pretty good,” Matteo said.
Numerous UVa afficionados Wednesday could not identify another walk-on who had started for the Cavaliers on the offensive line, much less started as a redshirt freshman.
Wachenheim wasn’t surprised. He recalls that Matteo twice came to camp at Virginia.
“What I noticed about him was, he was a scrapper,” Wachenheim said. “He battled; he’d take every rep. That’s what he is and that’s what he’s doing. I knew about him. We knew about him. We just didn’t sign that many linemen that year.
“If it had been a year when we took five linemen, we would have offered him. He’s intelligent, he’s scrappy, he’s tough. He can make a mistake and come back the next play. That’s an attribute that few people have.”
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