It didn’t take long last fall for the secret to get out.
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins arrived on Grounds as a relative unknown, but he announced his presence with a four-touchdown performance in the season opener against Richmond. It was clear before he ever leaped over a Louisville defender that the junior college transfer, who never played a meaningful snap at Arizona State, was a special athlete and he was going to take the Cavaliers’ offense to heights not seen in Charlottesville in more than a decade.
Perkins set UVa single-season records with 3,603 yards of offense and 34 touchdowns. He led the ACC with 206 points, and his 25 passing touchdowns tied N.C. State’s Ryan Finley for second in the conference.
Having spent two years in the shadows at Arizona State and one leading Arizona Western to the junior college national title game, Perkins may have snuck up on people last season. But this fall, the cat is very much out of the bag.
Talking heads all across the media spectrum have mentioned him as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy, and Perkins finished fourth in preseason voting for ACC Player of the year. Every defense Virginia faces this fall will be geared toward stopping him — or at the very least forcing him to beat them with his arm. He has the attention of every defensive coordinator on the Cavaliers’ schedule, but that isn’t going to change his approach to the game.
“Last year gave me something to work on and gave me a platform to strive for this year, kind of overachieve on that,” Perkins said at ACC Media Day in Charlotte. “I’m just making sure that I'm all I can be for this team. I think what separates a good quarterback from great quarterback is the ability to win a championship. Having that as a motivation, you just keep going.”
Perkins’ attitude toward practice and preparation may not change, but that doesn’t mean the offense will look exactly the same.
“You can expand the offense because with a year under the belt, coach knows what we do well and what we do bad,” Perkins said. “There was a lot to tweak coming out of spring. We thought we grew as an offense, so coming out of camp, coach is going to tweak it again and keep finding the things we’re good at and the things we can expand on.”
On the field, Perkins said Virginia’s newly discovered depth at wide receiver may take some of the pressure off his legs. Receivers Hasise Dubois, Joe Reed, Tavares Kelly and Terrell Jana are back after seeing meaningful snaps last season. The Cavaliers also added graduate transfers Terrell Chatman and Dejon Brissett and a deep freshman class of receivers, led by early enrollee Dorien Goddard and Louisiana native Dontayvion Wicks, who Perkins praised this summer as having “good hands and good feet.”
“I think this offense is going to change,” Perkins said. “We have a lot more depth at receiver, and guys have expanded their roles. It’s going to be all over the place as far as who gets touches.”
Off the field, he has already begun to step into the spotlight as a vocal leader after not forcing his way into the established group of veterans who ran the locker room last season.
“Coming in, I was just trying to establish myself as a guy who does things right for this team,” Perkins said. “Now with a year in, it’s easier for me to lead guys and for other guys to lead me. We have a great sense of leadership on the offense, and we hold each other accountable.”
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Perkins’ growth as a leader will be vital to this season’s success and the continued rebuild of the program.
“For a stronger result than a year ago, his leadership will have to advance as well, so the expectations from him to our team will have to be more assertive and more aggressive,” Mendenhall said. “A year ago, with his play and his ability, he became a de facto captain. Now, it’s what he does with that leadership. That’s the next step for him.”
Last fall, Perkins played through injuries, carried the load on offense and led Virginia to its first eight-win season since 2011. But this is the year that will determine if he’s a good college quarterback or a great one.