London Looks to Capitalize on 'Influx of Young Talent'
By Jeff White
PINEHURST, N.C. -- In 2009, Al Groh's final season as UVa's football coach, he played 14 true freshmen. Of that group, LoVanté Battle was in for 44 plays, Paul Freedman for 24, Javanti Sparrow for 23 and Corey Lillard for 10.
Groh's successor, Mike London, showed more restraint in 2010, using only three true freshmen: offensive lineman Morgan Moses, quarterback Michael Rocco and cornerback Rijo Walker.
The total is likely to be higher this season, because "there's an influx of young talent that's going to have to play," London said Monday night at ACC Football Kickoff at Pinehurst Resort.
First-year linemen typically need a redshirt year, London said, but players at the skill positions may be ready to contribute immediately. From UVa's highly regarded freshman class, such players as Anthony Harris, Darius Jennings, Kyrrel Latimer, Demetrious Nicholson, Brandon Phelps and Dominique Terrell could see the field this season.
Londons said there are "a lot of young men on this team, at the skill positions, that can run, catch and do things with the ball, so we're looking to see if we can take advantage of that. If they're ready, then we're ready."
Where some of these newcomers, including 6-5, 200-pound Kameron Mack, will be slotted is still to be determined. Mack played safety on defense as a senior at Norcom High in Portsmouth, but he may grow into a linebacker at UVa.
"He's a beautiful-looking athlete," London said. "This guy's long, lean and can run."
When the 2010 season ended, it was unclear how many fifth-year seniors would be on the roster this fall. Offseason attrition has made it possible for London to invite back virtually everyone in that class.
Before doing so, however, he made sure that the fifth-year seniors "understand that the best players have to play," London said, "and that because you're a fifth-year senior doesn't mean that you're entitled to be the starter ... Whatever role you might have, that you contribute to that role."
The competition for playing time "should make the fifth-year guys better, should make the younger guys better," London said. "But we've got to find who the best players are and put them in a position and give them a chance to play."
PRIZE PUPIL: Nicholson, a cornerback from Virginia Beach's Bayside High, was the state's Gatorade player of the year in 2010. He hasn't been at UVa long, but Nicholson already has impressed senior Chase Minnifield, a first-team all-ACC selection at cornerback last year.
"Every weekend he asks me, 'When are you working out? Where are you working out?' " Minnifield told reporters Sunday at ACC Football Kickoff. "I try to break him. He stays standing. He doesn't complain. He likes to learn. That's what I really like about him. He's listening. He understands.
"What I really respect is that he'll work and wants to learn. Not a lot of people will work out with me. I work out three or four times a day."
LESSON LEARNED: In 2009, UVa opened the season with a shocking loss to William and Mary at Scott Stadium. Coach Jimmye Laycock's Tribe capitalized on seven Virginia turnovers and won 26-14.
The rematch is Sept. 3 at Scott Stadium.
"The last time we played William and Mary, we really looked at that game like it was a gimme game, and that's definitely not going to happen this year," Minnifield said Sunday. "I respect that team a lot. I respect that coach a lot and the way he prepared for us. He gave us some things that we had never seen ... I'm sure he'll have something up his sleeve for this year's game."
W&M is expected to be among the top teams in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision this season.
POINT OF EMPHASIS: In 2010, Virginia was penalized an average of 73.3 yards per game, the most of any ACC team. Nationally, only two teams -- Troy (73.6) and Baylor (77.5) -- were worse in that category.
"There's no secret that we were a penalized team," London said Monday, "and obviously we have to eliminate those aspects that will hurt us."
Virginia's new strength-and-conditioning coach for football, Evan Marcus, has addressed the problem. "He ties our workouts in with penalties," senior wide receiver Kris Burd said Sunday in Pinehurst.
"He says, 'If you take a shortcut here, it's going to be like a penalty in a game.' The mental part of the game is what he's really been working on, and just building up our mental strength so we won't get as many penalties and we'll be more disciplined as a team."
In London's two seasons as the University of Richmond's head coach, his teams were among the least-penalized in the NCAA's FCS.
GROWING INTO THE JOB: Former UVa quarterback Shawn Moore's charges performed well in his first season as a college coach. Moore oversees Virginia's wide receivers, a group that included Burd, Dontrelle Inman and Matt Snyder, who combined to catch 139 passes for 2,007 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
In his second year on London's staff, Moore is "more comfortable," Burd said. "You could tell when he first got in, he just didn't want to make a mistake or seem like he didn't know what he was talking about. I feel like now, post-spring, he's definitely more confident. He voices his opinion on the field, on the spot. He doesn't wait till we get to the film room. He's not afraid to call you out if you do something wrong, and he'll praise you if you do something good."
PROGRESS REPORT: Ausar Walcott, a starting outside linebacker last season, was reinstated to the team in April. He had been suspended in late January, along with teammates Mike Price and Devin Wallace, for what London called "conduct detrimental to the team."
Now a defensive end, Walcott is "still working his way back into good graces with me," London said Monday night. Price and Wallace are no longer in the program.
Walcott has standards to meet in the classroom and on the field, London said. "I've gotten positive reports about some of the things that he's doing, but it's a process for him. He's got to continue doing the things I expect. So we'll see. He has an opportunity to be a positive influence on this team."
TROUBLING TIMES: That Georgia Tech and North Carolina have run afoul of the NCAA does not please John Swofford, the ACC's commissioner.
"Any time one of our schools has an NCAA problem ... I'm disappointed and concerned, because that's not who we are as a league," Swofford said Sunday in his state-of-the-conference address at Pinehurst.
Overall, though, Swofford believes the ACC compares favorably to other conferences. Its cornerstones have been -- and will continue to be -- competitivess on a national level, strong academics and rule compliance, he said.
"I don't think there's any group of schools in the country that better balance those three components of intercollegiate athletics than the schools collectively do in this conference," Swofford said. "The numbers bear that out, whether you're going back five years, whether you're going back 10 years, whether you're going back 20 years."
With the athletic programs at such schools as Ohio State, Southern California, Oregon and North Carolina making headlines for the wrong reasons, major-college sports clearly is at a crossroads.
"Personally, I believe that the path starts with how we define success," Swofford said. "Is it just winning? Is it generating the most money? Both of those things are obviously important if you're in intercollegiate athletics. But in college athletics, the definition, I think, has to go way beyond that. It has to be about programs that win, yes, but also programs that play by the rules and graduate their players.
"Don't misunderstand me. I'm not minimizing winning. I love to win, a lot ... But if you have to cheat to win, you haven't really won at all, have you?"
Beamer, London, O'Brien cringe at college football's scandalous
7:47 p.m. EDT, July 26, 2011
From all accounts, Frank Beamer, Mike London and Tom O'Brien are men of integrity, with 47 years of head-coaching experience and nary an NCAA scandal among them. Their players graduate and win.
Alas, many of their college football coaching brethren are not as principled and balanced, and this offseason's wave of wanton cheating cases has shaken the sport.
Suffice to say, the three cringe at the damage.
"It's not good for college football right now," said O'Brien, entering his fifth season at North Carolina State after 10 at Boston College. "Any time you have that many people involved in that many alleged violations, whether they are proven or not, it's not good for the sport of football.
"Certainly it's incumbent upon us as coaches to take care of our programs one way or another. When you look at the high profiles of the schools involved, that's the thing as unsettling as anything else."
Within the past year, improper benefits to athletes have cost Southern California the 2004 Bowl Championship Series title and Ohio State last season's Sugar Bowl victory, not to mention Jim Tressel his job as Buckeyes' coach. The NCAA is investigating last season's top two teams, Auburn and Oregon, for possible recruiting violations.
Closer to home: The NCAA stripped Georgia Tech of the 2009 ACC title for alleged stonewalling of a probe that otherwise seemed routine — All-ACC receiver DeMaryius Thomas accepted $312 in clothes; North Carolina is scheduled to appear before the Committee on Infractions in October to answer charges of academic fraud, improper benefits and former assistant coach John Blake doubling as an agent's recruiter.
Commissioners John Swofford of the ACC and Mike Slive of the Southeastern Conference have derided the state of affairs, and rightfully so. But it's coaches who see their profession tarnished, and coaches who must stem the corruption.
Beamer is entering his 25th year at Virginia Tech after six at Murray State. The Hokies were staggering from NCAA violations when he arrived, but under his steady leadership they've enjoyed 18 consecutive winning seasons.
Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff, I asked Beamer about the state of college football, and he immediately took aim at the NCAA and, although not by name, Ohio State.
"I think what needs to be looked at is how quickly schools that are in question are investigated, and if punishment is due, then get the punishment out there," Beamer said. "When things happen and it takes a year, a year-and-a-half, it takes two years, I just don't think that's good for anyone.
"If it means hiring more people at the NCAA level, that's what I think they need to do because I certainly want a level playing field. … We need quicker action, we need quicker results, to get to the bottom of things.
"I think people would question some of the punishments that have come around. When … kids can play in a bowl game but can't play the first few games (the next season) I'm not sure that's the right message to be sending. … If you break the rules, there needs to be a response."
The NCAA, you'll recall, issued five-game suspensions to five Ohio State players last year because they traded memorabilia for tattoos and other merchandise. But rather than withhold them from the Buckeyes' high-profile, big-money Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, the NCAA weaseled out and set the punishment for this season.
So I asked Beamer: "When those Ohio State players were cleared for the Sugar Bowl, were you, like, 'Are you kiddin' me?' "
"That's my point," Beamer said. "Seems like if you did wrong, you should be punished, and the quicker you can get that, the more chances you have of not getting something wrong again."
Compared to Beamer and O'Brien, London is a pup, entering his second season at Virginia after winning the 2008 national championship as a rookie head coach at Richmond. He's a dynamic recruiter, especially in-state, but worries about a national scene that's rapidly adopting basketball's sordid model of unregulated summer competitions replete with leeches of every variety.
"You have (agents') runners, the runners of the runners, big (apparel) corporations paying to fly recruits, and their parents and their siblings and their friends (to camps)," London said. "I don't know how you legislate it. It's where we are in society right now, and now the NCAA has to deal with it."
So do head coaches and their assistants. They have a choice: Tip-toe into the muck and risk falling in, or run in the other direction.
"There isn't anything I can do about the national," O'Brien said. "The only thing I can do is make sure that I do the best job that I can at N.C. State to make sure we never get into that conversation one way or another."
I asked O'Brien if, given the impossibility of monitoring players 24/7, he ever looks at schools under NCAA investigation and thinks, "There but for the grace of God go I."
"No, you can't (monitor constantly)," he said. "But I feel confident in my abilities to manage a program because of the people I'm able to hire. If there's one thing I've done well in my career, it's hire good assistant coaches."
That was an accurate, none-too-veiled dig at North Carolina's Butch Davis for hiring Blake, whose reputation preceded him.
A Naval Academy graduate and former Marine, O'Brien vets potential assistants himself. He doesn't micromanage staff or players, but rest assured, everyone knows who's in charge.
And that's what major college sports needs more than anything: ethical head coaches who understand that resolute leadership, or lack thereof, emanates from the top.
"I think if you have the right guys and you have the right system in place," O'Brien said, "then you're going to have some control over what happens in your program, even with everything else going on in the periphery — I hope."
If not, the entire major college sports enterprise will crumble.
Former Cave Spring, UVa player Aiken signs with Bills
He said Buffalo "would be the best fit."
By Doug Doughty
Less than 24 hours after NFL owners and the players association agreed to end a 4 12-month lockout, Roanoke's Danny Aiken was packing for a trip to Buffalo.
Aiken, a deep snapper at Virginia for the past four seasons, had agreed overnight to a contract offer from the Bills.
"They had the best offer on the table," said Aiken, who was a quarterback in his final season at Cave Spring High School in 2005. "Me and my agent discussed it, and Buffalo was where we felt, potentially, I had the best opportunity to be part of the team."
Aiken did not discuss monetary terms, but he said his choice "has nothing to do with money."
"I got to interact with the [Buffalo] coaches during the Senior Bowl, so it was more the familiarity that I had with the coaches. We just felt it would be the best fit."
The Bills have a returning snapper, third-year pro Garrison Sanborn from Florida State, who has played in 16 games in each of the past two seasons.
"I don't know much, other than I'm going in and competing with him," said Aiken, who was the only snapper to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "He's obviously a pro-caliber snapper, because he's been there. It would be the same anywhere else."
If he wasn't on the verge of signing with the Bills before the lockout, Aiken at least knew Buffalo was a possible destination.
He has worked out in Roanoke during the summer, often with brother Matt at the receiving end of his snaps. Matt Aiken is a sophomore wide receiver at the U.S. Naval Academy.
"I got a call from Buffalo just before the lockout but nothing since then," Danny Aiken said. "It definitely was stressful, but stuff happens and all you can do is roll with it."
Two of Aiken's undrafted 2010 UVa teammates also agreed to terms, defensive end Zane Parr with Houston and wide receiver Dontrelle Inman with Jacksonville.
According to Virginia Tech, eight of the Hokies' undrafted free agents have landed with NFL teams: running back Darren Evans (Indianapolis), tight end Andre Smith (Chicago), center Beau Warren (St. Louis), defensive linemen Steven Friday and John Graves (Houston), safety Davon Morgan (New York Jets), place-kicker Chris Hazley (Buffalo), and punter Brian Saunders (Jacksonville).
Three Cavaliers Sign Undrafted NFL Free Agent Contracts
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Three Virginia Cavaliers signed free agent contracts with NFL teams today, the first day undrafted free agents were able to do so after the end of the lockout. Danny Aiken (Buffalo Bills), Dontrelle Inman (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Zane Parr (Houston Texans) all signed free agent contracts today.
Aiken appeared in all 12 games in 2010 on special teams and was one of two Cavaliers invited to participate in the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl, joining Ras-I Dowling. Aiken concluded his UVa career appearing in 49 games as the Cavaliers' long snapper.
Inman started 11-of-12 games in 2010 and led UVa with 815 receiving yards. His 239 receiving yards at Duke last season rank No. 2 all-time at UVa in a game and No. 13 in ACC history.
Parr appeared in all 12 games, starting 11 for the Cavaliers in 2010. He had 48 tackles, including a season-high nine at Duke and Georgia Tech. Parr helped top No. 22 Miami with six tackles and added 2.0 sacks on the season.
McCarthy Leads Maryland Team to Mid-Atlantic Junior Title
Pikesville, MD - Led by incoming Cavalier freshman Denny McCarthy's (Burtonsville, Md.) final day competitive course record of 5-under-par 66, the team from Maryland posted a wire-to-wire victory at the third annual Mid-Atlantic Junior Invitational that ended Sunday at Woodholme Country Club (6,923 yards, par 35-36-71) in Pikesville, Md.
Maryland team members accounted for three scores of 75 or better on the final day and finished with an 892 (+40) aggregate. The team from the state of Virginia finished 13 strokes back (53-over 905), while the squad representing West Virginia was third at 934. In the two-day stroke play event, eight-player junior teams representing Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia compete in team competition, with the best six scores counted toward each team's aggregate.
McCarthy led all competitors in the event, closing play with an 8-under 134 (68-66) total. McCarthy was a semifinalist at the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur and an 11th place finisher in the Northeast Amateur in early July 2011.