FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2015, file photo, Virginia quarterback Matt Johns throws against Miami in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Miami Gardens, Fla. In a summer that marks the start of a new era for the Cavaliers, the fifth-year senior
Joe Skipper, File
July 15, 2016

Matt Johns is Virginia's incumbent starting quarterback and one of its unequivocal team leaders.

In a summer that is part of a new era for the Cavaliers, the fifth-year senior has been leading his teammates through seven-on-seven drills and workouts in the weight room. Johns is embracing the changes though he doesn't know if he will be behind center when Virginia opens Bronco Mendenhall's coaching tenure against Richmond on Sept. 3.

After spring practice, Mendenhall declined to name Johns or fellow senior Connor Brewer the starter, and the program has added former East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert as a transfer. Benkert, who has two years of eligibility remaining and can play right away, might be more mobile than either Johns or Brewer - a factor Mendenhall said he wants in a quarterback - and is familiar with the offensive system the Cavaliers will use.

Johns is not letting any of the uncertainty knock him off course.

''I'm good. I'm just taking it one day at a time and putting one foot in front of the other and trying to stay in my lane,'' he said Friday. ''When you get caught up with everything, that's when it really hurts you and I just try to focus on what I can do to help this team get better and let the chips fall where they may.''

That means maintaining his leadership in the weight room, too. Frank Wintrich, the team's director of football performance, or strength and conditioning coaches, guides them through intense, body-changing workouts.

''We're getting pushed every day to new limits physically, mentally and just as a team,'' Johns said.

Mendenhall promised when he was introduced that Virginia's players would work harder than they ever thought they could. Wintrich and Mendenhall were already on the same page in that regard when they teamed up last year at BYU and then came east to Charlottesville together.

Like the head coach, Wintrich was delighted that the Cavaliers embraced, rather than shied away from, the high standard. Only a handful of players opted to leave the football program, and none of them were on scholarship.

The leadership of Johns and others has been crucial, Wintrich said, even after his job status became murky.

''Real testament to the kid,'' Wintrich said. ''Outstanding leadership, outstanding buy-in. His motivation and his energy haven't waned one bit.''

Johns credits a changed attitude program-wide, and said the team is closer than ever before not only because they have had to work so hard together, but because of the excitement brewing that better results will be their reward in the fall.

In the spring, when some players had one last chance on a Saturday morning to earn the right to practice by completing a series of runs within a proscribed time, the rest of the team showed up to cheer them on.

And when the freshman recruits, on campus for nearly two weeks now, had their first scheduled workouts with Wintrich and his staff on Monday, about 50 of the veteran players were there offering encouragement.

''The culture is completely different, and it's very exciting,'' Johns said.

Even if he doesn't know what his fate will be in the fall.

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