In his Virginia quest to become the next Heath Miller, Jake McGee took an important step on Tuesday.
The junior tight end was named to the John Mackey Award preseason watch list, an honor Miller took in 2004.
Spectacular catches. Clutch touchdowns. Now, the potential for the same hardware.
The Miller-McGee connection continues.
“It’s always nice when you have a guy who’s paved the way to be a top tight end,” McGee said by phone Tuesday “He knows what it takes and what sort of awards come out of it.
“Heath won, I think, every one you could win as a tight end — All-American, all of that — so it sort of sets the standard for what I need to do to try to reach or get even close to Heath.”
McGee’s obviously done his homework on his Cavalier idol.
Miller was a two-time All-American at UVa. “Big Money” became the first player in ACC history to win the Mackey, given to the nation’s top tight end, in ’04 when he made 41 receptions for 541 yards and five touchdowns. The three-time All-ACC selection ended his career with program tight end records for catches (144), yards (1,703) and touchdowns (20).
Through two seasons, McGee’s career numbers and accolades — 28 receptions, 374 yards, five touchdowns, a 2012 All-ACC honorable mention nod — pale in comparison.
But this season he’s got a new position coach (Tom O’Brien), new offensive coordinator (Steve Fairchild) and a new goal.
“I definitely want to increase my productivity and be out there for more than just a few plays,” McGee said. “I want to put myself in position to be an every-down player and to truly have more impact than have a few catches here and there.”
For all of McGee’s flash last season (see fourth quarter heroics in Penn State and Miami wins), there were also spurts of inconsistency (see seven games of two catches or less). Whether that was a byproduct of a rotating quarterback or being mixed in with two other tight ends, he’s eager to improve.
“Now with guys ahead of me graduating [Paul Freedman, Colter Phillips],” McGee said, “I want to develop into an every-down player and I want to have an impact on more than just catches. I really saw that there’s work I had to do and I’ve been trying to do it ever since the new staff got here — for myself and for the team as a whole.”
McGee ended 2012 at 235 pounds. He said he’s now up to 250, a number that can help him stay on the field in blocking situations.
And he’s got O’Brien, a man with 115 head coaching wins to his name, to move the process along.
“When you have a guy like that who’s going to come coach you,” McGee said, “you listen to anything he says, you want to make your game adapt to it. That’s the best way that I’m going to be successful.”
Well, that and an effective quarterback.
McGee spent last season catching tosses from Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims. Both are gone, placing the spotlight on a battle of unprovens in redshirt sophomore David Watford and redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert.
“I’m excited for them to get to camp,” McGee said. “They’ve both been working extremely hard. Now that they’re at the top, they know it’s their time and they’ve both been working extremely hard. I’m excited for people to see what they’ve been doing.
“After the first couple practices, maybe the first couple games, they’ll no longer be seen as a question mark for the team. I’m excited for them to get a chance to show what they’ve been doing.”
UVa, 4-8 last season, will begin 2013 on Aug. 5 with the start of camp.