June 28, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In De'Vante Cross, the University of Virginia football team has an explosive player with the potential to frustrate opposing defenses.
That's been the case since Cross, a graduate of Parkland High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania, enrolled at UVA last summer. But he was a full-time quarterback then. As he prepares for his second training camp with the Cavaliers, Cross throws enough to keep his arm in shape, but he spends most of his time at wide receiver.
With Kurt Benkert entrenched as the team's No. 1 quarterback, Cross, who redshirted last season, began working at wideout during spring practice this year.
"We were just trying to find a way to get one of our more dynamic players on the field and get the ball in his hands," said Marques Hagans, who coaches Virginia's wide receivers.
"He's a good athlete, and so he's able to help our offense at other spots," quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said. "So we've been developing him to be able to play at those other spots and contribute to our offense. It's just the idea of getting our best 22 guys on the field."
Cross said: "It's exciting to know [the coaches] want to find ways for me to help the team."
Hagans played both quarterback and wideout during his stellar UVA career, so he's well-suited to tutor Cross, who stands 6-2 and weighs about 200 pounds. Hagans has been proceeding slowly and deliberately with Cross.
"You just go step by step," Hagans said. "You don't want to overwhelm him. If he's trying to get good at everything [at once], he won't get good at anything."
Hagans is "giving me little bits and pieces at a time," Cross said. "The plan is for me to master one thing, then move on to the next."
Under NCAA rules, coaches are allowed to work with players on a limited basis during the summer. The players spend more time with director of football performance Frank Wintrich, who oversees the strength and conditioning program, and then they practice seven-on-seven drills without pads twice a week on their own.
Being on the receiving end of Benkert's passes in seven-on-seven situations is "really helpful for me," Cross said, "because I'm getting a lot of reps at the position: catching the ball, running the routes. I'm just really learning on the fly with it, and it's really going well for me so far."
At Parkland High, Cross starred in football, basketball, and track & field. He played wide receiver as a ninth-grader and then moved back to quarterback for his final three seasons.
In 2015, he passed for 2,947 yards and 26 touchdowns, and he rushed for 1,385 yards and 19 TDs. Cross originally committed to Boston College, but he began exploring other options after Bronco Mendenhall took over as UVA's head coach in December 2015.
The previous staff at Virginia had not recruited Cross. The Cavaliers' new coaches, though, quickly won him over.
"They're really honest guys," Cross said. "They're very up front with you. This is a nice school and a nice place."
Cross was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and many of his relatives still live there. He moved to Allentown when he was in elementary school and formed great friendships there. The transition to college life proved difficult at times for Cross, who battled homesickness for much of the fall.
"At first it was great to be here going to college, and then over time it just started to wear on me," Cross recalled. "I'm far from home, and the majority of my friends stayed home and played in the [Lehigh Valley] area. It was just tough sometimes. They were always together, and I'm out here. For me it was just a struggle, but eventually I got over it."
He practiced at quarterback most of last fall, but late in the season Cross began taking reps on the scout team at wideout. When spring practice opened in March, he was back at quarterback, but when injuries robbed Virginia of its depth at receiver, Cross began cross-training again.
Since then, Cross said, he's focused "on receiver stuff more than quarterback, but I still do quarterback things here and there to keep me in the loop there."
As a wideout, Cross is "very raw, but he has very natural hands, he's very athletic, and he's coachable," Hagans said. "He wants to get better. He's fun to work with. I can see why Coach Beck likes working with him. He has a huge upside. When the pieces fall together, he's going to help this team."
At Parkland High, Cross competed in the sprints, the high jump, and the long jump in track & field. His personal best in the high jump is 6-4. Given his athleticism, Cross understands why the coaching staff wants to see what he can do at receiver.
"I have the ability for it," he said. "To me it's about learning the actual details of it. I can easily go line up and play receiver and be decent at it, but who wants to just be decent?"
Quarterbacks must "know exactly where everybody is on the field and where everybody needs to be," Hagans said, and that knowledge is helping Cross at wideout.
"I understand that as a quarterback you can't see everything, and I understand progressions," Cross said. "Sometimes you could get frustrated at receiver, because everyone wants the ball, but then I can remind myself that [the quarterback] can't see everything."
Zaccheaus, a rising junior, is the team's top returning wideout. He caught 51 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Dowling, a rising senior, had 50 receptions for 626 yards and four TDs.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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