JUCO QB transfer Bryce Perkins set for Virginia debut

              FILE - In this March 27, 2018, file photo, Virginia's Bryce Perkins runs the ball during the NCAA college football team's practice in Charlottesville, Va. Perkins has been praised as the answer at quarterback for Virginia. He enters his first week of game preparation of the Power Five level as the Cavaliers prepare to open against Richmond on Saturday. (Zach Wajsgras/The Daily Progress via AP, File)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — He has already been anointed the most important player in Virginia’s offense and transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins hasn’t even played a Division I game yet.

As the Cavaliers prepare to open the season against FCS-level Richmond on Saturday, Perkins said he thinks teams paying too much attention to his abilities will be doing so at their peril.

“We’ve got guys all over the board who can make explosive plays,” said Perkins, who led Arizona Western Community College to the NJCAA national championship game last season. “And young guys, old guys, the amount of talent at wideouts and running backs is just crazy. Explosive. If I had to pick one word, that’s probably the word I’d pick.”

Perkins didn’t arrive at Virginia with video game-type numbers. He threw for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns last season and ran for 353 yards and four touchdowns. But that was playing in a traditional pro-style, run-dominated offense, something Virginia will not employ this season.

The reason is Perkins’ dual-threat ability.

“Bryce is a freakish athlete,’ tailback and tri-captain Jordan Ellis said Monday. “He can take it 80 yards just like that. He’s done it in practice. He’s probably one of the fastest dudes on our team now. He’s probably one of the most athletic. … and I’m very excited to see what he can do in game action. It just adds another dynamic to our offense.”

Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who is beginning his third season with the Cavaliers, has made it clear that he is banking on Perkins remaining healthy to give Virginia the best chance to be successful.

“A lot of times with new players, especially at that position, day by day there is way ups and way downs,” he said. “With him, it’s been more of just solid, steady decision-making. There are still days of, or plays of, volatility, but I’ve been most surprised and impressed with consistency.”

Even so, Mendenhall said, he is as eager to see Perkins in game action as anyone.

“We certainly know what we want those numbers to be, and we think we know within the system and past performances within the system what that could be,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knows as of going into game one. We’re still looking for a reference point.”

Perkins was recruited by UCLA, Arizona and Northwestern out of high school, but picked Arizona State, where a broken bone in his neck nearly took football away for good.

When he transferred to junior college, then looked to move on again, most teams already had a quarterback in place, he said. Virginia’s coaches described the type of offense he prefers, a vast departure from the pro-style system they ran the last two seasons for Kurt Benkert.

“They told me before I came in, this is what we’re looking for and this is what we’re looking to do with the offense,” he said. “Coming in, that’s what I kind of expected.”

Perkins gets high marks from Mendenhall for showing up without an ego or the expectations to be the Cavaliers’ savior, and says he earned the respect of his teammates because of that approach.