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College football

UVA's Hagens always finds a way

At birth, doctors predicted Marques Hagans wouldn't be able to use his right side and he'd limp. Boy were they wrong.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published October 14, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - Virginia junior quarterback Marques Hagans doesn't know every detail, just that somehow, some way, he found a way.

At birth, doctors told his parents that their son had a form of cerebral palsy and wouldn't ever be able to use the right side of his body and wouldn't be able to walk without a limp.

Time for a Hail Mary.

"My great-grandmother kept praying and had a lot of faith that I wouldn't have it and as I grew older, it just went away," Hagans said. "That's the arm that I have today and the legs that I have, so I'm going to keep doing it (football) until I can't do it anymore. I consider it a blessing."

So do folks in Charlottesville, Va.

Hagans, 21, has completed 68-of-97 (70.1 percent) for 995 yards and five touchdowns and just one interception. He's fourth nationally in passing efficiency. He also has rushed 24 times for 165 yards and three touchdowns to lead the ACC in total offense.

The arm and legs once written off are doing nicely and somehow, some way, he has made a difference for the Cavaliers, who come to town untested, but undefeated and ranked No. 6 for Saturday's ballyhooed ACC showdown against No. 7 Florida State.

He's got a great arm, very accurate with it, and can run the football," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said, likening him to Florida's Chris Leak. "He's given everybody else fits so I'm expecting him to give us fits, too."

Not that he could have convinced Seminole fans that would ever be the case after Hagans, known as "Biscuit," made his first collegiate start at quarterback at Doak Campbell Stadium on Aug. 31, 2002. Hagans didn't make it to halftime. He was 1-of-7 for 4 yards and ran seven times for 14 yards.

"That was probably the worst game I ever had," he said. "I've been thinking about it ever since it happened. It'll probably be with me as long as I continue to play sports. It was a bad outing. You wished things could have gone better. It's something that I won't forget."

Virginia lost 40-19.

Hagans lost more.

Virginia coach Al Groh, then in his first season after leaving the Jets to return to his alma mater, realized shortly after that game that junior Matt Schaub would be his top quarterback. But he also knew that Hagans, the first player he went to see, had to be on the field and not a mere clipboard holder.

"I can picture him sitting right across from me and the conversation was, "Hey look. The head coach around here really likes to see you in the game and right now we have a pretty good quarterback, so under the present circumstances that's going to be difficult to do as the quarterback. But there's a way we can do that,' " Groh said.

He suggested Hagans return punts and play some receiver, at least for the short-term.

"His exact words were, "Coach. I just want to play. Wherever you think, that's what I want to do,' " Groh said.

Hagans averaged 9 yards a punt return, sixth in the league, with one touchdown during the rest of the 2002 season. Last season, he improved to 9.6 yards and added 28 catches for 262 yards.

But would he get a chance to be under center again full time? He didn't know, so he chose to concentrate on getting better in his job. Once Schaub, the school's all-time passing leader and a third-round NFL draft pick, left, he had his second chance.

He didn't need a Hail Mary this time.

He began spending more time in the film room with quarterbacks coach Mike Groh to better understand the system and the weight room to improve his strength.

"I can't say the progress was instant," Al Groh said. "He'd have good days, he'd have some bad days. ... But really since he came back for training camp in August, every day from that point on it was really forward progress for him."

The 5-10, 211-pound Hagans is reading defenses better and making quicker decisions. He's also not just pulling the ball down and running. Instead, he's scrambling more to buy time for his backs and receivers to find openings, a sign of maturity and confidence in his teammates.

"I believe in the players around me and I want them to believe in me," Hagans said.

"He's definitely evolved into a leader," said junior tailback Wali Lundy said. "He's always motivating people to do better on the field like (saying), "Come on baby. We need this play,' or, "Come on. Just give a little time, I'll make this play.' "

How doesn't seem to matter.

He finds a way.

"He's always been a playmaker since he got here," senior tailback Alvin Pearman said. "Before the season, everybody was worried about his experience; what he's going to be like as soon as the lights turn on. But Biscuit's the kind of guy when the lights come on, he's ready to play. ... He's a competitor. He loves to play and he hates to lose. Biscuit's performance has surprised a lot of people, but it has not surprised his teammates or his coaches."

[Last modified October 14, 2004, 00:44:16]


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