- Matt Fortuna, College Football
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Shortly after his arrival to Virginia this winter, receiver T.J. Thorpe was in offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild's office watching film. As head coach Mike London walked in, Thorpe began breaking down the tape from his North Carolina days, discussing his route … and the other receivers' routes … and the pass-protection … and the progression of the quarterback's reads.
As far as "wow" moments go, this was the biggest one for London, whose Cavaliers' offense may finally have the kind of playmaker it has often lacked in recent years. Thorpe graduated from UNC in December and enrolled at UVa in January, going through winter workouts and spring practice in hopes of a strong college farewell -- which he'll get the chance to accomplish this fall in Charlottesville.
"He's very confident," London said. "He's a great teammate now, and he's just one of the guys. And he's happy to be where he is, and talked about the environment for him here is very positive, as opposed to where he was before.
"We're glad we have him. And his on-the-field accolades have showed themselves to be, one, that he can stretch the field. He can run after the catch, he adds special teams value to us and he adds locker room leadership. So there's a lot of things that he's done, not in particular just one play, but to me it was the first impression when he first got in and we started talking football. He's a guy that's a smart football player as well."
Thorpe tallied 42 career catches at UNC for 574 yards and five touchdowns. He was also a 2011 finalist for the Johnny Rodgers Award, given to the nation's top kick returner. The 6-foot, 210-pounder was limited to nine games last season because of a broken left foot -- the third time he had broken that foot in college -- but he still amassed 16 catches for 237 yards and three touchdowns, which puts him third in 2014 receptions among returning Hoos receivers for 2015.
Fairchild saw a player this spring who he thinks can stretch the field. This was evidenced by Thorpe's performance in Saturday's Orange-Blue spring game, when he had a 47-yard run on the game's second play, hauled in a 21-yard pass two players later, and then capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown grab.
"I think he certainly brings that element," Fairchild said of Thorpe, who will also return punts in 2015. "We always talk about trying to get as explosive as we can get, and he brings that ability to get the ball down the field deep in the passing game and also gets you the explosive on maybe the underneath drive route, where he catches and runs.
"So he's a big component to what we're doing and I think again, he -- like the quarterbacks, like the protection, like everything -- if we can run the football better than we have, which was a major goal for us in the spring, if we can get that accomplished, then everything's going to build off that and be better than it would be if we can't run the football."
This past weekend at Scott Stadium hardly marked foreign territory for Thorpe, as he had hauled in the game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass in the Tar Heels' 28-27 win over the Hoos just six months earlier.
A former four-star, ESPN150 prospect, Thorpe had been recruited fairly hard out of Durham, North Carolina by London and his staff. Four years later, the late marriage has gotten off to a strong start.
"Really like what T.J. adds to our offense," Fairchild said. "Very explosive, hard-working guy, willing to block. As you saw in the spring game he has some ability to run with the ball in his hands as well as catch. He had a good spring for us. We were kind of figuring him out as we went. He was kind of learning a brand new offense. So I think there's still some upside there, but really pleased with what he did."
The Cavaliers may finally have the kind of playmaker it has often lacked in recent years.