Despite doing his best to fit into a new role during spring practice, rising senior tight end Jake McGee will not return to Virginia's football team, he confirmed to CavsCorner on Thursday night.
Instead, he's been granted an unconditional release and, after he receives his degree in psychology next month, will look to transfer to another school to finish his college career, though he is unsure of where he'll go next.
"It was something I just felt was right, for my career opportunities and I guess personal things, to graduate and play elsewhere," he said. "At this point, I'm sort of taking it all in and I sort of really wanted to bring closure at Virginia. This is a place that means a lot to me and a place that I have always loved and grown up around. It's a place no matter what happens, I'll always consider myself to be a Wahoo. Just for this next season, it's best for me to play elsewhere."
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"I want to thank Jake for his contributions to the Virginia program and wish him the best," head coach Mike London said. "When I came to UVa, he was one of the first players we recruited because he had committed to play for me at Richmond. I am very proud of the fact he will graduate from the University this spring. I hope he finds a program that fits his desires for his final season as a college player."
After sitting out in 2010, McGee played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Though he did not record a reception that season, he was credited with eight tackles on special teams, an area where he was an avid weapon during his time with the Cavaliers.
In 2012, his role from scrimmage increased dramatically. He became UVa's go-to playmaker, hauling in 28 receptions for 374 yards and five touchdowns, which tied for fifth most all-time by a tight end in school history. He also was responsible for the game-winning TDs against Penn State (four catches for 99 yards) and Miami that year.
A shoulder injury in training camp prior to the 2013 season made things difficult but McGee played in 11 of the team's 12 games. But he only started three times in a year where his name appeared on the John Mackey Award Watch List, given annually to the nation's best tight end. He still finished with 43 receptions for 395 yards (both team highs) and two TDs, catching a pass in all of the games in which he appeared.
McGee says his decision to transfer came at the end of a grueling process, not only because of his love for the school and its fans but also because of his admiration for head coach Mike London, who recruited him to the University of Richmond before being hired in Charlottesville.
"It was more just really, after having a tough year last year, getting back on track mentally and I have nothing but love and respect for Coach London," McGee said. "He's a guy that has always been supportive of me and a guy that sort of gave me the opportunity to play college football. And for that, he's someone I'll always look to as a mentor and role model. I have nothing but great things to say about him, the university as a whole, and the fans. This is a place that means a lot to me and it's because of the opportunity Coach London gave me and the way the fans embraced me that allowed me to be in a position like this."
There was no one moment that sort of cemented in McGee's mind that he should leave. Instead, he said, it came from looking ahead and trying to figure what was best for him given his projected role on the team this fall.
"I think I've got to be in an offense that's better fitted for my skill set," he said, "that will just allow me to play tight end in a more traditional way where I can really improve the best I can to play at the next level."
During spring practice, McGee was used as more of a hybrid wide receiver and tight end, spending half of his time with each group. While it was a change he was initially excited about, he says he began to worry about what it meant for his long-term success.
"I enjoyed what they did and the coaches, Coach (Marques) Hagans especially, reached out to me and he was another guy who gave everything he had for me and he's a guy I really look up to and respect greatly. He sort of took me in to try and make things better.
"It was something that I sort of tested it out and I just don't know if it was the best to have me develop as a player," McGee added.
Rather that spending time at receiver, McGee said he'd rather have been at tight end "working on the things that I'm not as good at instead of shying away from those."
McGee said that his decision to leave had everything to do with his own situation and nothing to do with a team that, coming off a 2-10 season, he feels can be better this upcoming season. That's even true of an offense he feels like will be improved even though he was unsure how he would do as a part of it.
"This was a personal decision for me," he said. "I think the team is going to have a great year. I really do. I really think there are a lot of guys that are going to surprise some people and have great seasons. I think Greyson (Lambert), when he's named the [starting] quarterback, will lead these guys in the right direction and I know K.P. (Kevin Parks) is really going to put the team on his shoulders. I think the offense will head in the right direction and it'll be a good season."
The toughest part, then, even when he knew that the decision had been made, came when he had to deliver the news to London.
"He's a guy that's been with me from the beginning and it's a tough conversation," McGee explained. "But he wants what's best for me and he's a coach that I love a lot. He's got my best interests at heart, regardless. So while it was a tough conversation, we're closer on a personal level where we look past just the football part."
Given an unconditional release, McGee said the two sides agreed that he would not choose any of the schools on UVa's 2014 schedule though he admitted, "I had no interest in playing against the guys, guys that know how I feel about them. It's been all love from them, too."
McGee said he's already talked to many of the players on the team and they were supportive of his decision even if they hated to hear the news.
"It's been all love and support and they know if they ever need anything from me that I would do anything for them," he said. "It's a tough time but it's what's best on a personal level for me and they know that I'm a Virginia graduate. I'll be a Wahoo for life."