After being a skinny freshman when the Keydets faced East Tennessee State last season, the bulked-up Udinski, at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, will be aiming to lead his team to its first win in two years. The Keydets (0-2) look to snap a 19-game losing streak when they host the Bucs (1-1) on Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Foster Stadium.
"He came here at 180 pounds, went through the ratline (a tough part of the VMI military training) and was as low as 160," head coach Scott Wachenheim said. "He's now 220 and he's changed physically and mentally. With Coach Sheppard coming in, he's become a student of the game, studying tape and being a leader of the team, getting the guys to come out and throw."
Coach Sheppard is offensive coordinator Brian Sheppard, who is working with Udinski to fine tune his fundamentals and make sure his drops and mechanics are right. His head coach has already seen an improvement of reading coverages and knowing where to go with the ball. The extra practice is also leading to better decisions on the field.
That might sound crazy since VMI's first two losses, against Toledo and Wofford, were by a combined score of 125-17. But Udinski's numbers have been solid as he has completed nearly 60 percent (47 of 79) of his passes for 332 yards.
He has kept his sense of humor through the tough times, and his coach said he's a fun person to be around.
While VMI is known for its strict regimen, the quarterback of the football team has more control of the offense than at some places. Wachenheim gives him plenty of chances to audible and not just stick with the coaches' calls.
"We let the quarterback run the show within the system," Wachenheim said. "The system is what it is. Some plays, the quarterback has to do adjustments and some plays he doesn't. Reece does a good job of running the show and doing what he's supposed to do within the framework of the offense."
The setting will be the same as VMI's last win, a 37-7 home victory over ETSU two years ago when quarterback Al Cobb threw three touchdown passes. A year later, Udinski completed 14 of 27 passes for just 105 yards in a 24-6 loss at ETSU. He was sacked four times in that game. His coach sees him facing more tough challenges against an aggressive ETSU defense led by linemen Nasir Player and Jason Maduafokwa.
"For Reece, he will be facing another talented defensive line," Wachenheim said. "They were physical against Tennessee and limited the rushing attack in the first half. I was impressed with them, plus the linebacker (Dylan Weigel) is a two-year, 200-plus tackle guy. They're definitely formidable as the secondary has a lot of speed. They're good at mixing up coverages and giving different drops. He will be facing a great challenge."