One of my first thoughts upon hearing that No. 2 Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims was transferring to Virginia was that I could not remember a transfer ever having a major impact for the Cavaliers.
Upon first thought, I think I may have been correct, at least when the standard is “impact,” but Sims isn’t the first celebrated transfer to choose UVa after leaving one of college football’s perennial powers.
Nor is he the first celebrated transfer quarterback.
And, if he were to start a game for the Cavaliers, he wouldn’t be the first transfer to do that.
The first that I can remember? Why, it’s none other than the former Virginia governor and current senatorial candidate, George Allen.
Allen, who began his college career at UCLA, transferred to UVa when his father, also George, was the head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Allen started several games in 1972, including a fateful game at Maryland, where the Terps intercepted Allen five times in the second half and rallied from a 23-3 halftime deficit to win 24-23.
Then-Maryland coach Jerry Claiborne called it “the greatest win I’ve ever been associated with.”
ALLEN WASN’T UVa’s only transfer quarterback during the 1970s. There was also Drew Schuett from Notre Dame and Lindsey Delaney from Pittsburgh.
Schuett lettered three times, 1976-78, but I’m not sure he ever saw any time at quarterback for the Cavaliers. I’ve put research assistant and former UVa head coach Dick Bestwick to work on that.
Roanoke County school administrator Mike Brancati, who played in the secondary with Schuett, said he thinks that Schuett might have started a game at quarterback. What comes to my mind is that I remember hearing that Schuett once saved a person who was about to drown in the ocean.
As for Delaney, I know he started at least one game because he had the Cavaliers on the verge of a milestone victory over Clemson in 1980, leading 24-10 to start the fourth quarter, but falling 27-24 on an Obed Ariri field goal at the buzzer (or was it Donald Igwebuike?).
Allen, in 1972, was the first transfer quarterback to lead Virginia in passing, with a paltry 650 yards. However, Wayne Schuchts was the first to do it twice, in 1982 and ’83. In fact, after passing for 1,881 yards in 1983, Schuchts held the UVa record for passing yardage in a season.
That 1983 UVa team was 6-5, marking the Cavaliers’ second winning season in 15 years and first under George Welsh, who was in his second season. Schuchts had begun his career at Colgate.
IT COULD BE argued, easily, that no transfer quarterback has enjoyed as much success at Virginia as Schuchts, but that’s not necessarily saying a lot.
There were high hopes for B.J. Hawkins, a standout quarterback from Potomac High School in Dumfries when he transferred to Virginia in the summer of 1991. Hawkins actually had played as a true freshman at Notre Dame but had gotten injured that spring and fallen behind Rick Mirer on the depth chart.
Hawkins had three years of eligibility at Virginia, where he was redshirted in the fall of 1991. The wrist continued to give him problems in 1992, when he didn’t dress for some games, and was then suspended for the 1993 season for a violation of team rules. He was never heard from again.
Old newspaper clips indicate that Hawkins got on the field but never had a rushing or passing attempt.
Another Notre Dame transfer, Chris Olsen, had an unspectacular career after transferring to Virginia on the verge of the 2003 season. He redshirted that season but couldn’t beat out Marques Hagans in 2004-2005.
Olsen got the start in the 2006 opener at Pittsburgh, by which time he was going by “Christian” instead of Chris. There was even a “Christian Olsen for Heisman” poster on the ESPN Gameday set, but the night did not go well for him.
Olsen was victimized for a “pick six,” an interception that Pittsburgh returned for a touchdown, as was back-up Kevin McCabe, and, within a month, both had been bypassed in favor of freshman Jameel Sewell.
SO, THAT’S THE LIST: George Allen, Drew Schuett, Lindsey Delaney, Wayne Schuchts, B.J. Hawkins and Christian Olsen.
Forgive me if I’ve missed anybody, but it’s not a very rich tradition that Sims will be bucking. Somebody said that a more impressive list might include quarterbacks who have transferred out of Virginia.
David Rivers, McCabe and Peter Lalich all have had big seasons after leaving Virginia but, in each case, they dropped down a level. Rivers played at Division I-AA Western Carolina and McCabe and Lalich have gone the Division II route at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Lalich after a short time at Oregon State.
What kind of career Sims will have at Virginia is hard to project. For one thing, it’s hard to see the Cavaliers taking the starting job away from Michael Rocco, at least if he’s playing at a level comparable to or higher than he played in 2011.
Some of the transfer quarterbacks haven’t been as talented as once hoped and others have brought some baggage to Virginia that they couldn’t unload. Nobody at Alabama has suggested that Sims lacks talent or that he was any sort of off-field risk, which should give him a leg up on his predecessors.