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Cavaliers new QB is self-taught pianist, too

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Marc Verica has been Virginia’s starting quarterback for one game, but it seemed as though he was just filling in until the real starter returned.
Peter Lalich was the starter, but did not make the trip to Connecticut two weeks ago and was subsequently dismissed from the Cavaliers for off-the-field problems. Verica started against UConn, but has remained virtually unnoticed around campus — except when he slides onto a piano bench in a lobby somewhere and starts tickling the ivories.
In a season that seemed doomed from the start — Lalich was the eighth player to leave the team for non-football problems — and has already included blowout losses to Southern California and Connecticut, the piano man might offer a welcome distraction to the Cavs.
‘‘It’s something I love,’’ said the sophomore, who taught himself both the piano and guitar.
He said he can’t even read music, but give him 20 minutes between classes, or several hours to kill in a hotel, and he’s likely to find a piano. People sitting nearby get treated to some of his own compositions.
It was a scene that played over and over last year at the team’s hotel in Jacksonville, Fla., where Virginia was preparing to play Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day.
‘‘We had a ton of free time for the bowl game, so a lot of times instead of laying in my room or watching TV, I would just kind of sit at the piano and mess around,’’ he said.
Not unaccustomed to drawing a small crowd of onlookers, Verica said several of his teammates eventually joined him and started singing silly songs they made up on the fly.
Now, those teammates find themselves surrounding him in the huddle, too. The 6-foot-2, 206-pounder has moved to the top of the depth chart after a strange series of events.
‘‘It’s almost surreal in a sense,’’ Verica said. ‘‘I think I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years. I’ve always just tried to focus on my game and what I needed to do to improve and eventually become a factor on this team. I didn’t want to just sit my whole career.’’
That’s no longer a concern. If he had any doubt about how quickly his impact on Virginia’s fortunes have increased, his offensive coordinator helped clarify this week.
‘‘Me and Coach Mike (Groh) had a chance to talk and he told me, ‘Don’t look over your shoulder. This is your team now. Just go out there and relax and be yourself,’’’ he said.
Head coach Al Groh said Verica’s ‘‘unflappable’’ temperament works for the Cavaliers.
‘‘I’ve heard coaches before say that sometimes about their quarterbacks — the good thing about them is that nothing bothers them; the bad thing about them is nothing bothers them,’’’ he said, laughing. ‘‘But that seems to be somewhat the case, and I think that is good in the early stages; he’s able to shake off those things and get on with the next shot.’’
For Verica, it’s the second time he’s risen to No. 1 almost by default.
As a high school junior, it was the week before the first game, Verica said, when the guy who had won the quarterback job twisted a knee, allowing Verica to start the opener.
‘‘I started that first game, played well, we won and I never looked back,’’ he said.
He’s making no apologies for a long, strange trip to No. 1 with the Cavs. He was at the bottom of the depth chart last season, when Jameel Sewell was the starter, Lalich was his backup and Scott Deke was the third quarterback taken along on road trips.
Then things started happening that were bad for Virginia, but good for Verica.
Sewell was suspended from school for a year in January for academic reasons, and Lalich won a three-way battle for the job in the spring before he was kicked off the team.
Verica got the call two weeks ago when the Cavaliers played at Connecticut.
‘‘That’s the first time I’ve played in live action in a couple of years, so it was good to get back out there and do that and take some hits,’’ Verica said of his 22-for-30 passing performance. He threw for 158 yards with an interception in the Cavaliers 45-10 loss.
Now, the job is his, and his second start comes Saturday at Duke, where the Cavaliers are underdogs even though the Blue Devils have lost 25 straight Atlantic Coast Conference games.
Verica welcomes the opportunity to help the Cavaliers get back on track.

‘‘It’s unfortunate for Pete,’’ he said, ‘‘but I was thrust into this role. Now it’s just my job to embrace it, and just to kind of lead this team to where they need to go.’’

AP-ES-09-24-08 1400EDT

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Cavaliers new QB is self-taught pianist, too

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Marc Verica has been Virginia’s starting quarterback for one game, but it seemed as though he was just filling in until the real starter returned.
Peter Lalich was the starter, but did not make the trip to Connecticut two weeks ago and was subsequently dismissed from the Cavaliers for off-the-field problems. Verica started against UConn, but has remained virtually unnoticed around campus — except when he slides onto a piano bench in a lobby somewhere and starts tickling the ivories.
In a season that seemed doomed from the start — Lalich was the eighth player to leave the team for non-football problems — and has already included blowout losses to Southern California and Connecticut, the piano man might offer a welcome distraction to the Cavs.
‘‘It’s something I love,’’ said the sophomore, who taught himself both the piano and guitar.
He said he can’t even read music, but give him 20 minutes between classes, or several hours to kill in a hotel, and he’s likely to find a piano. People sitting nearby get treated to some of his own compositions.
It was a scene that played over and over last year at the team’s hotel in Jacksonville, Fla., where Virginia was preparing to play Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day.
‘‘We had a ton of free time for the bowl game, so a lot of times instead of laying in my room or watching TV, I would just kind of sit at the piano and mess around,’’ he said.
Not unaccustomed to drawing a small crowd of onlookers, Verica said several of his teammates eventually joined him and started singing silly songs they made up on the fly.
Now, those teammates find themselves surrounding him in the huddle, too. The 6-foot-2, 206-pounder has moved to the top of the depth chart after a strange series of events.
‘‘It’s almost surreal in a sense,’’ Verica said. ‘‘I think I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years. I’ve always just tried to focus on my game and what I needed to do to improve and eventually become a factor on this team. I didn’t want to just sit my whole career.’’
That’s no longer a concern. If he had any doubt about how quickly his impact on Virginia’s fortunes have increased, his offensive coordinator helped clarify this week.
‘‘Me and Coach Mike (Groh) had a chance to talk and he told me, ‘Don’t look over your shoulder. This is your team now. Just go out there and relax and be yourself,’’’ he said.
Head coach Al Groh said Verica’s ‘‘unflappable’’ temperament works for the Cavaliers.
‘‘I’ve heard coaches before say that sometimes about their quarterbacks — the good thing about them is that nothing bothers them; the bad thing about them is nothing bothers them,’’’ he said, laughing. ‘‘But that seems to be somewhat the case, and I think that is good in the early stages; he’s able to shake off those things and get on with the next shot.’’
For Verica, it’s the second time he’s risen to No. 1 almost by default.
As a high school junior, it was the week before the first game, Verica said, when the guy who had won the quarterback job twisted a knee, allowing Verica to start the opener.
‘‘I started that first game, played well, we won and I never looked back,’’ he said.
He’s making no apologies for a long, strange trip to No. 1 with the Cavs. He was at the bottom of the depth chart last season, when Jameel Sewell was the starter, Lalich was his backup and Scott Deke was the third quarterback taken along on road trips.
Then things started happening that were bad for Virginia, but good for Verica.
Sewell was suspended from school for a year in January for academic reasons, and Lalich won a three-way battle for the job in the spring before he was kicked off the team.
Verica got the call two weeks ago when the Cavaliers played at Connecticut.
‘‘That’s the first time I’ve played in live action in a couple of years, so it was good to get back out there and do that and take some hits,’’ Verica said of his 22-for-30 passing performance. He threw for 158 yards with an interception in the Cavaliers 45-10 loss.
Now, the job is his, and his second start comes Saturday at Duke, where the Cavaliers are underdogs even though the Blue Devils have lost 25 straight Atlantic Coast Conference games.
Verica welcomes the opportunity to help the Cavaliers get back on track.

‘‘It’s unfortunate for Pete,’’ he said, ‘‘but I was thrust into this role. Now it’s just my job to embrace it, and just to kind of lead this team to where they need to go.’’

AP-ES-09-24-08 1400EDT

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