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July 26, 2009

ACC Notes: Hall in thick of Virginia QB race

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Slowly but surely, Vic Hall is getting the hang of this quarterbacking thing again.

Hall, a two-time state championship quarterback at Gretna (Va.) High School, moved to cornerback midway through his first year at Virginia and never returned to his old position until last year's regular-season finale.

He now heads into his senior year with a legitimate shot to open the season as the Cavaliers' starting quarterback.

"I'm comfortable, but not as comfortable as I want to be," Hall said Sunday at the Atlantic Coast Conference Media Days gathering at the Grandover Resort. "There's still a lot of work I've got to do."

Hall is competing for the starting job with Jameel Sewell and Marc Verica. Sewell guided Virginia to a 9-4 record as the Cavaliers' starting quarterback in 2007 before leaving school last season. Verica made nine starts last season and threw for 2,037 yards and eight touchdowns with 16 interceptions.

Sewell and Verica have more quarterback experience, but Hall has an excellent chance of winning the job.

As a surprise starter against Virginia Tech last season, Hall rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-14 loss to the eventual ACC champions. Hall's running ability helped Virginia nearly pull off a major upset.

"He looked very good," Virginia Tech safety Kam Chancellor said. "He was very fast, very quick. That might be the guy for them."

Hall threw the ball just once against Virginia Tech while splitting time with Verica, but his track record suggests he wouldn't be a one-dimensional quarterback.

He threw for a state-record 8,731 yards and 104 touchdowns in high school. He also rushed for 5,039 yards and 66 touchdowns while leading Gretna to back-to-back state titles his junior and senior seasons.

Injuries in the secondary caused Hall to move to defense midway through the 2005 season (he ended up redshirting). Hall's 5-foot-9 frame also caused justifiable concerns about whether he was tall enough to play quarterback at this level.

He started 24 games at cornerback over the past two seasons. He led the ACC and ranked seventh in the nation in forced fumbles last season.

Hall said he still could play defense if necessary, but he's in no hurry to move back. He's having too much fun at his old position.

"Offense, in general, I feel like it comes naturally to me," Hall said. "I feel I can help in more effective ways on offense."

N.C. State defensive end Willie Young doesn't want to speculate about whether linebacker Nate Irving will play football this season.

Young is too busy giving thanks that his teammate is still alive.

Irving is recovering from a broken leg and collapsed lung after a car wreck in which he ran off the road twice and struck two trees. The injuries could force the Wolfpack to play the entire 2009 season without their best defensive player.

"I don't think so much about football when I think about Nate now," Young said. "For him to still be breathing is a blessing alone, just by itself. Most people I don't think would have survived. You can't even imagine how someone could have survived an accident like that."

Irving's status for the 2009 season remains uncertain. His potential absence hasn't lowered the Wolfpack's expectations as they try to build on the momentum they established by winning four of their final five games last season.

"We have everything we need right now to take it to the promised land, to take it to the 'ship," said Young, in reference to the ACC Championship Game in Tampa, Fla. "It's up to the players."

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller has thousands of life-sized posters made in his honor and is the subject of a Heisman Trophy promotional campaign.

All the publicity Spiller has received makes it easy to forget that he isn't the reigning ACC player of the year. That honor instead belongs to Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer, who insisted he wasn't bothered to see Spiller receiving so much attention.

"He deserves it," Dwyer said. "He's a senior. He's been [at Clemson] all four years. He's been a remarkable player. He was a Freshman All-American. He's had all the accolades ever since he stepped on campus, even in high school. He deserves all the accolades he's getting. I believe he's a great player. Hopefully he succeeds and does well. It's great for the ACC to know we have a Heisman candidate."

Of course, if Spiller is a Heisman candidate, doesn't that make Dwyer one also? Dwyer rushed for more than twice as many yards as Spiller last season.

"I've only been a starter for one year," Dwyer said. "This is only my third year playing. [Spiller] has been here all four years. He's the head honcho. He's the guy. The most miraculous plays he makes with his feet are ridiculous. It's unreal. He deserves it. If I'm a candidate, it's exciting for me to even be dark horse or whatever they have me listed as. Just to be in that category is an honor. We'll just see at the end of the season whether or not I'm there."

How much have things changed at Wake Forest? The Demon Deacons won eight games last year and considered the season a disappointment.

"If you'd tell somebody four years ago we'd have an eight-win season, they'd be pretty ecstatic," Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner said. "I think it's just a testimony of where Coach [Jim] Grobe has brought this program. We don't want to settle for eight wins. Eight wins is not successful for us and where we want to be. The community of Wake Forest fans feels the same way. It fuels you not to be complacent and not to settle for seven or eight wins and say, 'Oh, fans like it, so it's OK.' We expect to win 10 games a year, be in the championship [game] and make a run to go to the Orange Bowl."

Wake Forest failed to live up to expectations last season because the Demon Deacons didn't perform as well in close games as they did during their Orange Bowl season of 2006.

The 2006 Wake Forest team went 5-0 in games decided by seven points or less. The Deacons are 6-6 in those situations in the two years since.

"My freshman year we were coming out on top of those come-down-to-the-wire games," Skinner said. "They won't always be in your favor. It's hard to practice performing in the last couple of seconds of a game, but one of the biggest things is just staying together as a team when it comes down to that. How we respond when we face adversity really determines how we do at the end of a game when it comes down to the wire. When things go wrong, how do we respond? Are we going to kind of lay down or answer back?"

Florida State and Miami were both ranked in the top 15 the three times they faced each other in nationally televised season-opening showdowns from 2004-06. Neither team likely will be ranked that high when they meet in this year's Sept. 7 season opener for both teams.

Yet players from both teams say the rivalry still means plenty to them, even if it has lost much of its national relevance.

"Guys are always motivated to play that game," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said. "To have it as the first game keeps guys motivated through the offseason. Once two-a-days start, it keeps guys focused. We like it. We enjoy it."

Ponder said he's looking forward to having the game back on prime time.

"It's national television on Monday night and the only game being shown that night," Ponder said. "It's a great opportunity to show what we've got."

It will be interesting to see if the return to Labor Day makes Florida State-Miami a defensive-oriented game again. The 2004-06 showdowns were noteworthy for their lack of offense. The winning team failed to exceed the 16-point mark in any of those three games.

Once it moved to midseason, the Florida State-Miami game suddenly turned into an annual shootout. Miami won 37-29 at Florida State in 2007. Florida State won the rematch 41-39 last season.

"Tommy John" surgery isn't reserved for baseball.

Boston College center Matt Tennant didn't even play baseball in high school, yet he already has twice undergone the surgery named in honor of the former pitcher who won 288 games in the majors. Tennant has had the procedure done once on each elbow.

Tennant needed surgery on his right elbow late in his high school career at Cincinnati Moeller. He hurt his left elbow last season in the Music City Bowl.

"I went back to see my doctor and he's like, 'What are you doing here?' " Tennant said. "I said it was my elbow. He was saying, 'Is there something wrong with it?' And I said it was the other one."

The surgery shouldn't affect his preparation for the 2009 season. Tennant said he has since returned to full strength.

The ACC Championship Game will take place in prime time in Tampa, Fla., this year before moving to Charlotte for the next two seasons. ACC commissioner John Swofford indicated the league wouldn't seriously discuss potential sites for 2012 and beyond until after Charlotte gets its first shot at hosting in 2010.

ACC officials also need to decide whether they want to follow the SEC model of having a permanent site or the Big 12's lead of moving the game around to various locations.

"We need to find out what works the best for us," Swofford said. "It may be similar to the SEC. It may be similar to the Big 12. Or it may be something different from either one of them."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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