Everything involved with manning the quarterback position can get into the blood of a high school player. It's the kind of position that defines an athletic identity.
Transitioning to the next level, where former high school players are often asked to put quarterback responsibilities in the past to become college wide receivers and defensive backs, can result in some heartache. Playing the game without the ball in your hands on every single play can take some adjustment.
Not for Virginia's Maurice Canady.
He played quarterback as a senior at Varina High in Richmond, also spending time at cornerback and wide receiver. Since arriving at U.Va., he's been practicing exclusively at cornerback, and there hasn't been the first symptom of quarterback withdrawal.
"Actually, I didn't like quarterback," said Canady, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound freshman. "I only played it because I had to. At quarterback, you have to be nice and calm and use finesse. At (defensive back), you can really be yourself. You can really do what you want and be aggressive."
It's a little easier to put away football experiences from a decorated high school career — he was named the offensive Most Valuable Player last year by the Touchdown Club of Richmond — when you move into position to take over a starting role in the middle of your first college practice.
That's what happened to Canady. Going into the first practice Aug. 6, U.Va. had sophomores Demetrious Nicholson and Drequan Hoskey listed as its projected cornerback starters. Before the first practice concluded, Canady said he was working with the first-team defensive backs in Hoskey's old spot.
"I was ready to go," said Canady, who as a senior at Varina passed for 704 yards, ran for 1,090 yards and had 280 receiving yards to go along with 10 pass breakups on defense and an interception return for a touchdown.
"It's good because I didn't want to redshirt at all. I wanted to play at the beginning (of my career). (U.Va.'s coaches) kind of made it clear to me that I wouldn't be redshirting. It sold me."
U.Va. coach Mike London had a decent idea of what he was going to get when Canady got to Charlottesville — a guy with a ton of athleticism. As Canady continues to have more complicated concepts thrown at him in practice, London notices the benefit of Canady's days at quarterback and receiver.
"I think from being a quarterback and a wide receiver he understands the possible routes that can be run," London said. "Right now, he's fearless. He'll anticipate and jump anything that he sees. It's a good thing, bad thing. It's a good thing to be fearless, but the bad thing is sometimes routes don't always (turn out) to be what they appear to be. I think that's part of a learning curve that he'll get in college ball."
Canady said the biggest adjustment he's had to make is figuring out his pre-snap alignments. He's playing field cornerback in U.Va.'s 4-3 alignment, and he's also in on U.Va.'s nickel package — both of which require different positioning before the snap.
As far as the typically challenging adjustment for many college cornerbacks to playing in zone defensive schemes, Canady says it's been relatively headache-free. Some of his quarterback recall comes in handy in those situations.
"It's easier for me to read what I need to be doing," said Canady, who added he's actually had to learn less this preseason than he did in the preseason when he was playing quarterback in high school. "With some of the outside or inside reads, I had similar reads playing quarterback."
If Canady winds up earning the starting job going into U.Va.'s season-opener on Sept. 1 against Richmond, he'll be the second true freshman to start at cornerback for U.Va. in the last two seasons. Demetrious Nicholson, who is U.Va.'s lone returning starter in the secondary, was a true freshman starter last season.
In addition to Canady and Nicholson, sophomores Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps have been working with the first team at the safety positions. U.Va. is obviously going to have one of the nation's youngest secondaries.
"We can feed off it," Nicholson said. "We know we're a young secondary, but it's also a chance for us to show that we can play. We can make a name for ourselves and grow together in these next couple years to come."
With a starting job on the line, playing with any kind of uncertainty isn't a luxury for Canady. Nicholson, who has been thrust into the unique role of sophomore leader, has prepared Canady for what's to come.
"He told me they're going to be going after us," Canady said. "We're going to put more work into it than we usually would, being that we're a young team. I'm looking forward to it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times