CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. GR PHOTO — CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Midway through his senior year at Ridley High School outside Philadelphia, Matt Blundin decided to give up his dream of becoming a big-time college quarterback. ** Or more precisely, a Penn State quarterback.
It had nothing to do with the Nittany Lions' losing interest in Blundin, who had orally committed to the school, or in Joe Paterno's wanting to turn the now 6-foot-7 quarterback into a linebacker, as happened to Jim Kelly.
"I decided I wanted to play basketball," Blundin said recently. "My father put together some tapes and we sent them out to a few schools. Virginia had no scholarships at the time. But it's worked out for me, and I think I've helped out the program."
Programs may be more accurate. Blundin, who started at forward as a sophomore for the Cavaliers basketball team and was the team's sixth man during his past two seasons, now has an opportunity to do the same for the Virginia football team.
After joining the football team as a sophomore and backing up Shawn Moore the past two years, Blundin will get his chance as the No. 1 quarterback when the Cavaliers open the 1991 season Saturday against the University of Maryland at Byrd Stadium (noon).
"In the two games I've started, I did a lot of good things and some bad things," said Blundin, who started against Clemson in 1989 and Virginia Tech last year because of injuries to Moore. "I have confidence in myself. I know I can play the game."
Two years ago in a nationally televised game against the Tigers at Death Valley, Blundin was 14 of 34 for 248 yards, with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions. But the Cavaliers lost.
In the final game of the 1990 regular season against the Hokies in Blacksburg, Va. -- one week after Moore had dislocated his thumb in a 35-30 loss to the Terrapins -- Blundin was 21 of 34 for 305 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. The Cavaliers lost again.
"Being a quarterback is a little bit different than being a forward in basketball, because you're kind of the center of attention," said Blundin, who averaged 3.6 points and 4.5 rebounds over a four-year career at Virginia. "But after playing in so many big ACC games and in the NCAA tournament in basketball, I really don't feel the pressure."
Said tailback Terry Kirby, who like Blundin played on the Virginia basketball team: "In basketball, everyone sees Matt as enthused and ready to play. In football, he's more laid-back. He needs to be more of a direct leader. There are some people who doubt him, but I think he can use that to his advantage."
The comparisons with recent Virginia quarterbacks are inevitable, and also a bit unfair. Not only is Blundin following in the darting footsteps of Moore, now a member of the Denver Broncos practice squad, but he is the next in line to a legacy that has included Don Majkowski of the Green Bay Packers and Scott Secules, a backup with the Miami Dolphins. They are among the school's four all-time passing leaders.
Blundin, who underwent two knee operations before he came to Virginia and one since, credits much of Virginia's success with quarterbacks, as well as his own development, to former assistant Gary Tranquill.
"He turned Shawn into a really good quarterback, and he taught me a lot about the game," Blundin said of Tranquill, the former Navy coach who is now an assistant with the Cleveland Browns.
Said Tranquill: "I think Matt's a bright young man. He's eager. He's got a strong arm. I thought he could have been further along in his development if he was involved in football for a couple of springs. He could have had 40 more practices to work on the technical aspects of the game. But I think his playing basketball under those conditions was invaluable in terms of handling the pressure."
Asked whether he thought Blundin could handle a starting role, Virginia coach George Welsh said: "I don't think Matt is going to feel any pressure, because of the basketball. If he starts off well, he knows it's going to be his job. But he also knows, like any other player, that we can make a change if things aren't going well."
It's not going to be easy. Against Maryland, he will face one of the better defensive lines in the ACC. To compound the problem, Virginia's offensive line returns just two starters and recently lost starting guard Mark Dixon indefinitely with a back injury. Both wide receivers, Terry Tomlin and Brian Satola, have previously been backups.
Blundin has demonstrated a strong arm, but has also been prone to interceptions (seven in 80 pass attempts). "The one thing I tend to do is take a lot of chances," said Blundin. "I went in there to throw, and I didn't worry about interceptions. But it's important for me to get the team off well."
Maryland defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who likens Blundin to former Terrapin Scott Zolak, said of the Virginia quarterback: "He's a guy who could easily have said, 'I'm just going to be a basketball player.' But now it's his turn to hum that ball on Saturday afternoons."
And no Moore waiting around.
Matt Blundin's statistics
A7. . . . G ... . Att. ... Com. ... TD ... Int. ... Yds.
1990. . 8 ... . 42 ... . 28 ... .. 2 ... 4 ... . 388
1989. . 6 ... . 37 .. .. 16 ... .. 2 ... 3 ... . 264
1988. . 2 ... .. 1 ... .. 0
Totals.16 ... . 80 ... . 44 ... .. 4 ... 7 .... 652