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Position switch proves beneficial for Terence Fells-Danzer

The embrace redshirt junior fullback Terence Fells-Danzer shared with his grandfather underneath the goalposts Saturday at Scott Stadium following Virginia’s 48-21 victory over Eastern Michigan represented the conclusion of a conversation they began last December.

Previously a linebacker in former Coach Al Groh’s 3-4 base defense, Fells-Danzer requested a position change during the offseason, hoping to find greater opportunity to get on the field. Seven games into the 2010 season, Fells-Danzer has grown into his role as a reserve fullback and developed into an integral component of a Virginia kickoff return unit that leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in yards per return.

Perhaps most importantly for first-year Coach Mike London as he attempts to rebuild a downtrodden Cavaliers program, Fells-Danzer has become a player he can point to as someone who took advantage of career resuscitation. Against Eastern Michigan – in his first collegiate start – Fells-Danzer caught his first collegiate touchdown pass and also scored on a 70-yard kickoff return.

“Those are the type of things that, when a player has a little bit of success, play-by-play, game-by-game, that hopefully it becomes contagious to other players,” London said. “And that's what we've got to do. We've got to try to put a string together of successful plays, which will lead to successful games, which leads to winning games, which leads to turning things around.”

Changing course was exactly what Fells-Danzer had in mind when he called his grandfather, Kenneth Fells, around Christmastime last year. First, Fells-Danzer asked his grandfather – who has coached youth football for the past 35 years, including a long stint at the Peppermill Community Center in Landover – what he would think about him changing his uniform number. Fells consented.

Fells-Danzer later called back to say his number had gone from 50 to 34 and that, oh by the way, he also had switched to the offensive side of the ball. To say that Fells was perturbed would be an understatement. His grandson had spent three years developing equity at the linebacker position and all of the sudden he wanted to play fullback?

“Then he began to explain his reasoning and his logic,” Fells said. “And I must have taught him too well, because his reasoning and his logic made perfect sense.”

The new coaching staff was switching from a base defense that included four linebackers to one that utilized three linebackers, and Fells-Danzer knew that meant there would be an abundance of options at his position. He also knew that the new coaches would not have much film to study on him, seeing as how he had played sparingly on defense the previous two seasons.

Following Fells-Danzer’s redshirt freshman year, he was so discouraged with his lack of playing time that he briefly considered transferring to another school.

“In the 3-4, there were a lot of moving parts,” Fells-Danzer said. “To get it down, you have to be very calm and very vocal on what you need to do. And I can say at the time I was very timid on making a few calls and making a few shifts. It was just very difficult to actually even understand at that time why I wasn't playing. But at the same time I also knew why I wasn't playing.”

After consulting with his mother and grandfather, Fells-Danzer elected to stay, if for no other reason than to pursue a degree from a highly reputable university. Ever since Fells-Danzer was in seventh grade and had to ask his grandfather to call his mother and convincer her to let him play football, Fells had taught his grandson to be coachable, even during times when his relationship with his coach waned.

It also helped that first-year Virginia Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor was re-introducing the fullback position into the Cavaliers’ scheme. Fells-Danzer approached London and asked to switch to fullback.

Months later, on a crisp October Saturday, Lorraine Fells-Danzer took a seat next to her father at Scott Stadium and grew worried that her son might be too nervous when she saw him nearly cause a fumble on the game’s opening kickoff.

But on a play near the goal line during the third quarter, Lorraine could not contain her anticipation. “He’s open!” she screamed as Terence slipped out of the backfield and into the end zone. And when quarterback Marc Verica found her son with a three-yard touchdown pass, she screamed once more. “That’s Terry!”

“We were all very excited that first touchdown,” Lorraine said. “Not that we didn't think he could do it. Just waiting for the opportunity for him to have his moment, sometimes that's a long time to wait.”

As Fells-Danzer jogged off the field following his two touchdown performance, he saw his grandfather standing underneath the uprights. He wrapped the man who has guided him through his football career in a hug and let the moment soak a little while longer.

“I had been preaching to him the whole time about perseverance,” Fells said. “Stay in there; do what you're asked to do [ellipses] I was more just elated and happy for him because he is realizing why he went there and what he wanted to do.”

By Steve Yanda  | October 27, 2010; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  Football  
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