CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Virginia wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus was expected to provide an offensive spark for the Cavaliers last season. The diminutive speedster showed flashes of his capabilities, but a balky hamstring limited his opportunities.
The setbacks taught him the importance of paying attention to his diet.
The versatile junior is hoping a more focused approach will allow him to have a breakthrough season.
”It was something that I needed to go through just to see how important taking care of my body is,” he said. ”It’s one thing I’ve been focusing on tremendously this year, making sure I’m hydrating the right way, putting the right things in my body to make sure I can feel good on the field … and go full out.
”I’m a quick-twitch guy. I’ve got to take it more seriously. I’ve got to put the right things in my body. That’s one thing I didn’t do too well last year.”
Zaccheaus caught 51 passes last season for 584 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. But he showed much greater potential. He made a fingertip grab of a laser from Kurt Benkert and went 82 yards for a touchdown against Central Michigan, and had a 74-yard catch-and-run for another touchdown against Pittsburgh.
Still, he averaged just 11.5 yards per catch, his explosive speed compromised for much of the season.
”The hamstring controlled everything in terms of how he could practice, how many plays he could play and how we could play him,” second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said. ”We were aware of that the entire time.”
Benkert, who also played through injuries for much of the season himself, saw Zaccheaus’ potential all during spring practice. The quarterback saw how Zaccheaus was able to carry would-be tacklers for more yards, or use his quickness to turn short passes into long gainers.
”He’s a small guy, but he’s strong. He’s really strong,” Benkert said of the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Zaccheaus. ”He’s fast. He’s been carrying the pile all spring and it’s something I wasn’t used to seeing coming out of him, but he’s a really dynamic player, especially for his body type. It allows him to do more than post people can.”
As a freshman, Zaccheaus averaged 19.5 yards on kickoff returns, a role he did not fill last year. He did, however, also average 7.9 yards on 33 rushing attempts his first year and showed enough versatility to be placed on the Paul Hornung Award watch list – an award that recognizes the most versatile player in college football.
The rushing production fell off his sophomore season, when he was limited to three carries for 24 yards.
But the pieces seem to be in place for Zaccheaus to have an impact this year.
Benkert has shed the brace that was on his right knee all last season and his separated left shoulder has had time to heal. Senior wide receiver Andre Levrone is also healthy and will be joined by sophomore Joe Reed to form a deep threat duo that will require attention.
”We’re all more experienced and we’re just more confident,” Zaccheaus said. ”We’ve had an offseason to just come together and just run routes and throw the ball together and just become one and be on the same page.”
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