Sept. 22, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- With all due respect to Canaan Severin, the top playmaker on the UVa football team during the first few days of training camp last month might have been fellow wide receiver T.J. Thorpe.
And that’s why the injury Thorpe suffered Aug. 12 during a scrimmage at Lambeth Field – a broken right clavicle – was such a blow to the Cavaliers, particularly the offense.
“The connection I have with Canaan right now, I had that all summer with T.J.,” Virginia quarterback Matt Johns told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena.
“When I lost T.J. this summer, it was hard. I did not take it well. I had to put it aside and be focused on what we had. But having him back is just a huge deal, and I can’t wait to play with him.”
The 6-0, 200-pound Thorpe, who transferred to UVa from North Carolina in January, underwent surgery Aug. 13 to repair his clavicle. He was expected to be sidelined about 10 weeks. But less than five weeks later he was back at practice, and Thorpe made his Virginia debut Saturday against William and Mary.
Wide receivers Marques Hagans probably would have been happier if No. 8 had waited another week, but Thorpe was eager to get back on the field.
“For me,” Thorpe said after practice Monday, “it was more of a confidence thing, going out there and knowing that I could do it, knowing that I could be in a game situation [again].”
In UVa’s 35-29 win over William & Mary, Thorpe was in for only five plays and did not have a ball thrown his way at Scott Stadium. Still, it was an important step for him.
“Of course I wanted to play a lot more,” Thorpe said, “but just being out there warming up and in pads and being able to run out of the tunnel for the first time and everything was really good for me.”
Virginia (1-2) is back at Scott Stadium on Friday night, hosting Boise State (2-1) at 8 o’clock. Look for Thorpe to have a significantly larger role in this game.
“I’m going to be doing a lot of different things that I was doing before,” he said. “Still probably not every little thing that I was doing before, but as much as they’re going to put on my plate, I’m willing to do.”
The Cavaliers have most Mondays off during the season. Because of the short week, however, they practiced Monday morning, and Thorpe “looked really good today, I can say that,” head coach Mike London said later at his weekly press conference.
“He caught a lot of long passes and has done a lot of nice things. Having him back is very favorable for us.”
In three seasons at UNC, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science, Thorpe caught 42 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns. He also impressed on special teams, returning 59 kickoffs for 1,448 yards and one TD, and he’s expected to be used in that role at UVa too, perhaps as early as Friday night.
The Wahoos have to be careful, though, not to expect miracles from Thorpe, Johns said.
“It’s one of those things where I think if we look at it like, ‘Oh, my gosh, T.J.’s back, T.J.’s back,’ then it kind of affects our mindset,” Johns said. “We’re just moving forward, and we’re happy to bring him along. It’s like, ‘All right, T.J.’s back, let’s incorporate him in there and move from there.’ Our mindset hasn’t really changed. We’re going to execute the way we have been and just continue.”
After the Boise State game, the ‘Hoos don’t play again until Oct. 10, when they visit Pittsburgh for their ACC opener. Originally that seemed a realistic target for Thorpe’s 2015 debut. Almost as soon as his operation was over, though, Thorpe began assuring his teammates and coaches that he’d return ahead of schedule.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t brought here to sit and watch,” Thorpe said, “and so with that being said I just knew that [the injury was] minor, and it could have always been worse, so I think positive thinking definitely helped the healing. And then just being around these guys, with everybody believing in me, not wanting to let them down, wanting to attack rehab harder, really helped me heal.”
Severin said: “It’s his last go-around. He’s obviously going to be excited to get back and obviously going to be attacking the rehab hard.”
Thorpe’s girlfriend wants to become a physical therapist, he said, and has some experience in the field. “So she would always help me with stretching and whatever else and give me different exercises,” said Thorpe, who’s pursuing a master’s in kinesiology in UVa’s Curry School of Education.
He progressed rapidly. The first time he met with his surgeon, Dr. David Diduch, after the operation, Thorpe said, “he was expecting me to just be in a sling, and I could already put my arm over my head and move around and do a lot of different things.”
Thorpe smiled. “I did a lot of things at home I probably shouldn’t have done, as far as getting out of the sling and making sure I could do that” – he raised his arm – “and making sure I didn’t let it tighten up.”
Severin, Virginia’s No. 1 wideout in 2014, continued to put up big numbers in Thorpe’s absence.
Against Notre Dame on Sept. 12, Severin had 11 catches for 153 yards, both career highs. For the season, he has 19 receptions for 264 yards and one TD, and he’s eager to play alongside Thorpe.
Thorpe’s return will make it more difficult for opposing defenses to be overly attentive to Severin and UVa’s other targets.
“It’s just going to help the offense,” Severin said.
Virginia opened the season with a 34-16 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. A week later, at Scott Stadium, UVa fell 34-27 to Notre Dame.
In the latest Associated Press poll, Notre Dame is ranked No. 6 and UCLA is No. 9. Missing those games was difficult for him, Thorpe said, in part because he enjoys playing against marquee opponents. More painful for him, though, was knowing the Cavaliers could have used him in those games.
“I’m not saying that we would have won had I been on the field,” Thorpe said, “but you have that in your mind, that you could have been the difference and might have helped [change the outcome]. It’s tough. But I think everything happens for a reason, and I think that helped us as a team.”
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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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