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The converted fullback gives Virginia another big blocking tight end alongside Jake McGee.
Zachary Swanson, who played fullback for the Cavaliers last year, had two touchdown receptions in UVa’s practice Friday.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At 6 foot 6 and 255 pounds, Zachary Swanson hardly qualified as a prototypical fullback.
And, if you’ve heard new Virginia football assistant Tom O’Brien, what the Cavaliers really lacked in the spring was a prototypical blocking tight end.
At UVa’s final open practice of the preseason, Swanson was all that and more, catching two touchdown passes, the second of which he punctuated with an emphatic spike.
“Jake [McGee] would always joke that I was never really a true fullback,” said Swanson, a redshirt junior from Katy, Texas.
“He always pictured me as a tight end and I think that’s where I belong. I was doing what I had to do to help the team last year and I’m much happier now.”
Virginia had a full complement of tight ends last year, including McGee, who had 28 receptions for 374 yards and five touchdowns, including game-winners against Penn State and Miami.
McGee frequently entered the game in passing combinations and started once all season. Senior Paul Freedman started 10 games and classmate Colter Phillips started the other.
Freedman and Phillips both were in the 250-pound range and would be on the field together in short-yardage situations.
It was O’Brien’s hope in the spring that McGee could become more of an every-down player, a situation that could become a reality now that McGee is approaching 250 pounds, up from the 230s last year.
McGee was not in pads Friday as he continued to rest a shoulder “stinger” suffered earlier in the week, so there were ample opportunities for Swanson and 6-7, 250-pound converted defensive end Rob Burns, a redshirt sophomore.
“I like blocking on the line and I like running routes, too,” said Swanson, who had eight receptions for 88 yards last year, including a 1-yard touchdown pass from Phillip Sims as time expired in a 56-20 UVa loss at Georgia Tech.
“I think what anybody wants to show is that they give their coach an option. That’s what I hope to show our coaches.”
Swanson’s return to tight end has shifted a little more focus to the fullback position, now manned by converted defensive end Vincent Croce and fifth-year walk-on Billy Skrobacz, who was awarded a scholarship prior to the start of camp.
Signee Connor Wingo-Reeves is another fullback candidate and seemed to relish contact Friday. Another walk-on, redshirt freshman Israel Vaughn, has an impressive pedigree as the younger brother of Josh Vaughn, a top-flight running back for Richmond when UVa head coach Mike London guided the Spiders.
Swanson does not view his time in the backfield negatively.
“It worked out good,” he said. “We had sort of a logjam at tight end when I got here and that’s what prompted my move to fullback. We had the two older guys and now it’s back to me and Jake, just the way we came in.”
And, the sight of such big bodies as Swanson and McGee has put a smile on O’Brien’s face in his return to UVa, where he served as offensive coordinator for some of the best teams in Cavaliers history.
O’Brien returned this year after stints as the head coach at Boston College and North Carolina State and is serving as associate head coach for offense while overseeing the tight ends.
“It’s such a blessing to play for a coach with as much experience as him,” Swanson said. “I see things a different way that he’s pointed out. “
O’Brien won’t have to remind Swanson that spiking a football is not allowed at the college level.
“In camp, everything gets kind of monotonous,” Swanson said. “That was fun. Jake’s the guy who makes all these super catches. I’m just doing what I can.”
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