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August 7, 2013In between UVa's 2011 and 2012 seasons, it's safe to say that not too many people cared what Jake McGee ate. But since his breakout year last season, the junior tight end has become a focal point for fans the way he was for defenses in the passing game.
With added bulk and a dedication to being an every-down tight end, McGee says he's only going to improve in 2013.
"It's been a lot of work," he said during the team's media day last week. "When I first got here, I wasn't ready. I really didn't know exactly what I was getting myself into I guess, with the time commitment and all that. After a year or so, you sort of realize what it takes or what it's going to take if you want to make a good career out of it and be successful."
In 2011 as a redshirt freshman, McGee spent almost all of his time on special teams. As a sophomore last year, despite playing behind two seniors at the position, McGee started three games and played in all 12. He caught 28 passes for 374 yards and five touchdowns, the fifth most scores by a player at his position in school history.
His heroics were instrumental in half of the team's wins last season, including a four-catch, 99-yard game against Penn State and a four-catch, for 26-yard game against Miami. In each case, McGee came down with a touchdown reception in the game's waning moments to put UVa up for good.
That's one of the big reasons he's on the John Mackey Award Watch List, given annually to the nation's top tight end. If you're expecting that to matter to him, though, you'll be waiting a while.
"It's always nice to get honors," he said, "but preseason honors don't really [matter], it just says you did okay the year before. It doesn't add any extra pressure because I already have very high expectations for myself."
McGee credits new tight ends coach and associate head coach for offense Tom O'Brien for getting him on the path he's on now as he enters camp at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds.
"I've had some really good conversations with him because he's a guy that's had a lot of success as a coach, he's had a lot of guys get to the next level," McGee said of O'Brien. "I had some good conversations with him when he first got here, with him telling me what it would take if I wanted to make a career out of football. It was good to hear, because it set things in perspective and really got me motivated."
Adding weight was something that McGee knew he had to do. But people constantly asking him about it or talking about it online added fuel to his fire.
"It's really been a lot of motivation for me," he explained. "It's a question that I'm not really tired of being asked because I hadn't completely earned the right not to be asked but now I'm at the point where I'm at the weight that they want and that I think is going to make me successful. It's a situation where, hopefully through camp and the first couple of games, it'll be a non-issue and the work will show."
While he needed to put on weight to be an every-down tight end, McGee stills sees himself "as a special teams guy" because it's a part of the game that he really loves. New special teams coordinator Larry Lewis has free reign to use whichever players he needs and McGee knows that he will be a part of the plan in some capacity.
"I think if it helps the team, I want to be out there," the Richmond native said. "Winning comes first and I'm a competitive guy. My wind will be fine and I don't see myself getting tired. There's enough commercial breaks and timeouts nowadays, we're working out enough, that I should be able to recover. I don't think they'll put me in spots that don't really have an impact. If it's a spot where I can make an impact on special teams, I want to be out there."
Going into training camp as the clear starter at tight end, McGee says he comfortable with every aspect of that position, be it in the run or passing game.
"I feel I'm ready to go with whatever they ask of me," he said. "I feel of course more confident in the passing game. I have that feeling, just as a competitor that no one can guard you. As any good receiver or tight end would say, whether it's a linebacker, a safety, a corner, I feel like I'll win that matchup. Blocking wise, I feel confident that I'm ready to go."
Much has been made in the preseason about leadership. For a team made up largely of sophomores and juniors, McGee says that out of the 4-8 mark last year he's seen in the offseason a team that has matured.
"I think we have a great group together right now," McGee added. "People say, 'You don't have a lot of seniors. You don't have enough of this or that.' I'm excited for us to get back out there and have people see the team we've put together and the work everybody has put in. It's a cool group that's close knit, that really trusts each other and has a good bond."
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