Groh's Cavaliers set to go camping
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 11, 2004
There will be more than enough butterflies to go around. You can count on there being a fair share of jitters too. And there will also be quite a few nervous football players.
Ah, the start of another Virginia football training camp.
As the Virginia football team gathers today for the start of the 2004 preseason practice period for the first time, the new faces in the program will get their first chance to try on a Cavalier practice jersey.
There are certain to be quite a few emotions running through their bodies. From local standout Chris Long to California-native Scott Deke, the mission will be the same - to get acquainted with football, college football.
One face that has been a fixture at UVa training camps in the Al Groh-era will be noticeably absent as the sessions get started.
For the past five years, Matt Schaub turned heads as he used the preseason period to learn a Cavalier offense that he mastered. After being drafted in April by the Atlanta Falcons, the former Virginia quarterback now calls the NFL home.
But despite his new job description, it does not mean that Schaub does not relate to how the rookies in camp will feel as they open the sessions under Virginia coach Al Groh and his staff.
“Going from high school to college, it is going to be a different experience for them and things are going to be a lot faster,” Schaub said on Tuesday. “It is going to take a while for things to slow down for them. I think they have to learn from the veterans and just understand that it’s going to be a tough transition and deal with it in a positive way.”
Schaub said one thing that will help the rookies is the camaraderie among the teammates.
“It is a family oriented atmosphere,” said Schaub, who passed for a school-record 7,502 yards in his career at UVa. “They will have plenty of help and guidance throughout the camp.”
Virginia’s training camp, which is the fourth under Groh, will run until Aug. 28
The Cavaliers will open the season in Philadelphia when they travel to face the Temple Owls on Sept. 4. The game, which will be broadcast by ESPN2, will kickoff at Noon.
Open practices. Virginia fans will have six chances to catch a glimpse of the team in training camp.
After two days of closed practices, Groh will open the sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All three sessions will start at 2:30 p.m.
On Monday, practice will begin at 6:45 p.m. and on Tuesday the team will practice at 2:30 p.m.
The final chance to see the team will be on Wednesday, Aug. 18 at 8:45 a.m.
All fans attending an open practice must check in at the reception desk in the football office of the McCue Center to pick up a pass for access to the practice field. If no one is at the reception desk, go to the designated gate at the practice field to pick up a pass. Visitors must stay in the designated areas assigned for fans.
Cavaliers land top pitcher
Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 8, 2004
When Virginia baseball coach Brian O’Connor removed his name from the coaching search at Auburn, he said that he had some unfinished business to take care of with the Cavalier baseball program.
He said he wanted to take Virginia to Omaha and the College World Series.
Steven Hunt wants to make sure O’Connor gets his wish.
Hunt, who is a rising senior at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes, N.J., said that he committed to the Virginia baseball program this past week with one goal in mind - to get to Omaha. Hunt is the first known commitment for the Class of 2006.
“Yes, I have committed [to Virginia]. I wanted to be a part of a program that goes to Omaha and wins the national championship,” Hunt said.
Hunt, who is a right-handed pitcher and catcher, appears to have all the tools to help get Virginia to the biggest stage in college baseball.
Earlier this summer, Hunt stormed into the college baseball scene when he turned in an outstanding performance at the Team One South Showcase in Atlanta. Hunt dazzled a crowd that included almost 100 college and pro scouts.
For his performance, the
6-foot-2 hard-throwing pitcher was named the No. 1 prospect in the showcase.
All of the nation’s top programs took notice.
Hunt said he had offers from Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech, among others, but he knew the best fit for him was in Charlottesville.
“The past year, [Virginia] had such a great year hosting the regional and being ranked in the Top 20 almost all year … doing that without [O’Connor having] his own recruited players was something that was very special,” Hunt said. “I thought Virginia was a program on the rise.”
Hunt lived up to his nickname of “Shooter” at the showcase as his sinking fastball was clocked on radar guns from 87 to 91 miles per hour. And that is not his best pitch.
The Wyckoff, N.J. native said his best pitch is his breaking ball.
While Hunt expects to be a pitcher in college, he is also one of the best catching prospects in the East.
At the showcase, Hunt was told to elect one position to workout at and he picked catcher. When the organizers ran out of pitchers and still had a catcher to evaluate, Hunt volunteered to pitch.
Hunt quickly struck out three of the four batters he faced and was clocked at 92 miles per hour. With his impressive outing on the mound and his steady performance behind the plate, Hunt was named the top prospect in the showcase.
The showcase was not the only stop for Hunt during his busy summer.
Hunt is pitching this weekend for the Montreal Expos Area Code team in Long Beach, Ca. at an event in which Major League Baseball officials select the top prospects in the country to compete for a week.
He also pitched in the East Coast Professional Showcase in Wilmington, N.C. for the Boston Red Sox team. The players were selected by various organizations to compete in this four-day showcase.
Hunt, who went 8-0 on the mound in high school action this year, said it does not matter where he plays as long as he is on the field.
“I just want to play some ball,” said Hunt, who also plays basketball in high school.
So what separates Hunt from the other top prospects in the country?
“I am a competitor,” Hunt said. “I want to go out there and take the ball and help my team out and just try to win the game and go after hitters as aggressively as I can and let my team do the work.”
Hunt said one of the biggest factors in his success has been his high school baseball coach, his dad Mickey.
“At times it gets a little rough because he has to be hard on you but it has definitely helped out having a chance to play and having your dad there every step of the way,” Hunt said. “It gives you a lot of confidence.”
Hunt hopes that confidence carries over to a career at Virginia that leads the program to Omaha for the first time.
“Omaha is very special. I actually played in a tournament out there when I was younger and we got to see some games,” Hunt said. “We got to see Pat Burrell with Miami out there. Just watching the games, you want to play on that field someday and play for a national championship with eyes on you.”
Hunt, who has posted a 1,220 on the SAT and sports a 4.9 GPA on a 5.0-scale, said the academic standards at Virginia played a big factor in his decision.
“I don’t think anybody gets [accepted to Virginia] from up here,” said Hunt with a chuckle. “It is very hard to get into. Virginia is the greatest place to be at academically.”
UVa Freshmen trio get acquainted with campus
By Andrew Joyner / Daily Progress staff writer
August 7, 2004
A cynic might say that the NCAA rarely passes legislation that makes immediate sense. Often, NCAA rules and laws draw exasperated sighs from the coaches and administrators who must live with them daily.
Still, every once in a while, NCAA legislation comes along that does indeed contain wisdom and common-sense practicality.
Three years ago, the NCAA passed guidelines that allow incoming freshmen athletes to spend the summers prior to their first years on campus taking summer-session classes and acclimating themselves to college life.
The Virginia men’s basketball team’s three-member freshmen class of Sean Singletary, Adrian Joseph and Tunji Soroye are taking advantage this summer. Since the beginning of July, the trio has been indoctrinated into the UVa culture through classes, residency in stuffy dorm rooms and, of course, basketball.
“I think it’s a great advantage and good experience. I think it should be something all students should do,” said Joseph, a 6-foot-7 native of Trinidad who prepped last season at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
Added Soroye, a 6-11 native of Nigeria who played at Montrose Christian in suburban Maryland: “It’s been a fun and good time. I think we have an advantage of already having been here when the other students come in the fall.”
Singletary, a highly-touted point guard from Philadelphia whose mere arrival created its own stir among UVa fans, agrees the opportunity is a great one as long as they take advantage.
“It gives you a real taste of classes and everything. You have the chance to knock out some credits and have perhaps a little lighter [course] load for the rest of the year and during the season,” Singletary said. “If you really take advantage of it, you can perhaps graduate in three years.”
If the players have been getting a certain education in the classroom, there one on the court has been an eye-opening learning experience as well.
Almost daily, the young trio participates in pick-up games with the UVa veterans. While the games are a far cry from what they will face during the ACC season, that’s not to say they lack intensity.
“Most of the time, the games run smoothly but occasionally there is quite a bit of intensity out there,” Singletary said. “It’s all good. No matter how intense it gets, we are still a team and that’s the goal in the long run when the season arrives.”
Each player seems to add his own unique talents to the Cavaliers’ current composition. The sinewy Joseph is a slashing athletic player that has a knack for getting to the rim while Soroye likely will give Virginia a much-needed inside presence defensively.
Of course, Singletary has almost been anointed as Virginia’s next lead guard ever since he committed to the school in June 2003. An explosive point guard with talents to both distribute and score, Singletary has already made a strong impression on his classmates.
“He’s the type of player that gets you the ball when you are open and sees that. That’s a real skill for a point guard,” Joseph said.
Singletary, who is close to 100 percent after recovering from a shoulder injury that bothered him most of his senior season at the William Penn Charter School, says he doesn’t try to listen to all the expectations placed on him.
“I really, to be honest, don’t read too much in the papers or anything like that. I don’t read or look at any of that stuff until after the season,” Singletary said. “I just want to go play my best and contribute as much as I can.”
Northern exposure boosts Curry
Undrafted by the NFL, a former Virginia cornerback finds a place to shine in Montreal.
By Ed Miller
Landmark News Service
For vertically challenged or otherwise slightly irregular football players, the Canadian Football League has long offered a non-judgmental attitude and a warm, north-of-the-border embrace.
Doug Flutie, the 5-foot-9 quarterback, got his start in the CFL. So did Jeff Garcia, once considered both too small and weak-armed to play in the NFL. Michael Clemons, a 5-foot-5 dynamo from William and Mary who was little more than an NFL curiosity, became one of the CFL's all-time greats.
Into that tradition, he hopes, steps Almondo "Muffin" Curry, fresh out of the University of Virginia. He stands 5-foot-8, weighs 175 pounds and has never been asked to be on anyone's 4x100 relay team.
Yet, six games into his CFL career with the Montreal Alouettes, Curry, a cornerback, was named the league's defensive player of the month for July.
Curry's honor, coincidentally, came right about the time NFL training camps were opening. Camps to which he was not invited.
Not only was Curry not drafted, he didn't receive a single offer to come to a camp as an undrafted free agent.
So much for a productive, prove-'em-wrong career at Virginia, where he started for three seasons. To a numbers-obsessed NFL, Curry didn't measure up.
"Guys like me, you have to run a 4.3 40 to make them feel like they can select you," said Curry, who runs a 4.6. "But at the end of the day, it's all about who's a football player. Size doesn't matter."
Curry swallowed his hurt and headed to Quebec. Bob Price, a Virginia assistant who coached in Montreal, called his old friend Jim Popp, the general manager of the Alouettes.
"There's a lot of guys that don't get picked in seven NFL rounds that are better than those who are picked," Popp says.
His job is to find them. In Curry, he thinks he might have done just that.
"He's a baller," Popp said. "He knows what he's doing."
Curry wasn't sure he'd even make the team. He'd heard the CFL was a veteran's league, where coaches were wary of rookies. Cut during training camp, he was added to the practice squad, where he was hanging on by a thread.
Somehow, when the season opened in June, Curry worked his way into the starting lineup. Three weeks later, he returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown.
Curry has picked off three more passes, tying him for the league lead.
"I guess I've adapted pretty fast," he said. "I've learned how to play the way I wanted to play."
Playing corner in the CFL, where the turf seems to go on forever, offers some unique challenges. Including the end zones, the field is 30 yards longer and about 12 yards wider than in the NFL and college. That gives receivers plenty of room to roam. As a "wide-side" corner, Curry covers the bigger swath of the field, from hash mark to sideline.
"The routes seem a lot longer," he said. "You could be breaking on an out ball, and it seems the sideline is never going to show up; the receiver still has all this room."
CFL rules also allow for unlimited motion in the offensive backfield.
Curry has adapted, using positioning, quickness and football smarts to make up for his lack of size and blazing speed.
"He's probably faster than a lot of people may have clocked him at," Popp said. "A lot of guys who are fast don't move their hips real well. But he's kind of got the whole package - great feet and hips, and he can play a ball in the air.
"He has continued to prove, 'Hey, I'm a good football player.'"
In that respect, being passed over by NFL teams may have been a good thing, said Gene Krcelic, Curry's agent. Had he been invited to a camp, he probably would have received limited reps in practice.
"Ultimately, he would have been cut," Krcelic said. "By him playing like he is now, he'll be able to dispel any misconceptions about his size and ability.
"I think this is a blessing in disguise."
Maybe. CFL success is no guarantee of NFL interest. Popp says Curry will always fight an uphill battle with NFL clubs, because of his size.
But Curry fought that battle in high school and college as well. He's hoping his CFL performance will earn him an invitation to an NFL mini-camp next spring. Meanwhile, he's found at least a temporary home in Montreal, where he rides the subway to practice and marvels at the pace of life in the French-Canadian city.
"It's always busy, in the middle of the day," he said, laughing. "It seems like no one ever works here."
At least one guy is.
Posted on Mon, Aug. 09, 2004
Q&A With Al Groh
Q. Virginia is one of four ACC teams that has to play Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech. Does that make it tough for you? I think some were dealt a little lighter hand than some others. But when not everybody plays everybody, that's always the way that it's going to be. That's the way it is with NFL scheduling and cross-division scheduling. That's the reality of things.
Q. You're choosing between Marques Hagans, Christian Olsen and sophomore Anthony Martinez to replace Matt Schaub (who had 56 career TD passes) at quarterback. How do you feel about that? This isn't one of those denigrate-your-own-team type of deals, because of the great weight that goes with the quarterback position. If I was one of the pickers ... I would not pick a team that didn't have a returning quarterback ahead of teams that did.
Q. How might Hagans' experiences as a wide receiver and kick return affect him as a quarterback? The circumstances with Marcus are different. Most of the time, he's been at punt returner or wide receiver, and his teammates have seen him produce and make plays. But that may not be the case at quarterback. In his old position, he only had to produce six times in maybe 75 plays. At quarterback, you've got to produce 75 plays in a row.
Q. Virginia's entire offensive line, led by guard Elton Brown, returns. Can that unit be the best in the ACC? Everyone we have on the offensive line has the potential here to be a three- or four-year starter, to be around here contributing for a long time.
Q. Virginia is picked to be a first-division team in the ACC. Is this the kind of respect you had in mind when you came to Charlottesville three years ago? I'm not saying we can't be great, but it just might not be this year. But you're supposed to be good. We don't want to just be good now. We have to become great.
Q. Virginia has won the first two Continental Tire Bowls in Charlotte, including a victory against Pittsburgh last season in which Panthers wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald didn't have a touchdown catch for the first time in 18 games. Did that give the program some deserved recognition? There was a lot of buildup for (Pittsburgh's) Larry Fitzgerald before that game. And what did we do against that team?
Cavaliers tight end part of vanishing breed
By WENDELL BARNHOUSE
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Tight ends who can catch passes all over the field and also block are a vanishing breed. Most teams use their tight ends either as a third offensive tackle or designate an oversized wide receiver as a ``tight end.''
Put Virginia's Heath Miller on the endangered species list. He's an old-school tight end.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound junior is a two-year starter who helps make the Cavaliers' offense effective. Miller's ability to block helps the running game , and his pass-catching ability provides a dangerous receiving threat.
Miller's teammates call him ``Big Money'' for his clutch catches and ``Baby Shockey'' for his combination of size, pass-catching and blocking ability.
``Heath Miller's the best tight end in the country - hands down,'' Virginia senior offensive guard Elton Brown said. ``Double team him and he'll catch the ball. Triple team him and he'll catch the ball. Throw the ball up and he'll catch the ball. People see all that, but behind the scenes he's a great run-blocker, too.''
Last season, Miller had 70 receptions for 835 yards and six touchdowns.
When he arrived in Charlottesville three years ago, Miller was a quarterback. But during his redshirt freshman season, he moved to tight end and spent practices on the scout team tearing up the Cavs' first-team defense.
``I think that it helps that I've been on the other side (playing quarterback),'' Miller said. ``It helps me get a feel for the open spots in the defense.''
Virginia coach Al Groh, who said he can't remember seeing Miller drop a catchable pass - in practices or games - has been impressed by Miller's position switch and how quickly he has developed into one of the nation's top tight ends.
``It's been quite a transition for him,'' Groh said. ``He's one of those guys who really takes to coaching. If a coach points something out to him during the course of a drill, on the next repetition he's trying to do it that way. And by the second rep, he's making progress on it.''
Virginia Cavaliers Conference: Atlantic Coast
Coach: Al Groh (22-17 in three seasons, 48-57 overall in nine seasons)
2003: 8-5, 4-4 in tied 4th
Bowl: Defeated Pittsburgh 23-16 in the Continental Tire Bowl.
Why Virginia is No. 15: The Cavaliers have one of the most versatile and athletic defensive front sevens in Division I-A. Their offense has potential to be productive. Best-case scenario: Junior quarterback Marques Hagans brings a scrambling dimension to the offense and some big-play wide receivers develop.
Worst-case scenario: The quarterback position becomes a season-long problem and the inexperienced secondary is riddled by the top quarterbacks in the ACC.
Starters returning: 7 on offense, 8 on defense Key players: Junior QB Marques Hagans, sophomore QB Chris Olsen, junior RB Wali Lundy, senior RB Alvin Pearman, junior TE Heath Miller, senior OG Elton Brown, sophomore LB Ahmad Brooks, sophomore LB Kai Parham, senior DE Chris Canty, junior K Connor Hughes.
Cheers: The Cavs have stockpiled and played talented young players who have gained valuable experience. Lundy and Pearman form a dangerous combo at running back, and Miller helps the running game with his blocking, and the passing game with his receiving ability. The defense is one of the nation's best.
Jeers: The quarterback situation is in question, with Hagans and Olsen battling for the starting job. The receivers, aside from senior Michael McGrew, are untested. The secondary is talented but inexperienced, particularly at safety.
It all means: Even with the ACC strengthened, Virginia should be in position to challenge for the top spot and perhaps a BCS bowl.
Datebook: Nov. 6 vs. Maryland. These are two of the ACC's up-and-coming programs. The Cavaliers play host to Miami the following week. Should Virginia win both games, an ACC title is possible. Figuring: Running backs Wali Lundy (a junior) and Alvin Pearman (a senior) have combined for 3,112 yards rushing, 196 receptions and 40 touchdowns catches for 1,682 yards and 40 touchdowns in their careers. Extra points: Groh coached Wake Forest from 1981-86. He left the head coaching job with the New York Jets to return to his alma mater. During his NFL career, Groh was an assistant coach under Bill Parcells. ... Virginia returns all five starters on the offensive line, plus Miller, who often blocks like an extra offensive tackle, not a tight end. ... Senior Ottowa Anderson, the team's top returning wide receiver, has been suspended for the season because of off-field problems. ... Excitement is high in Charlottesville. The school has set a season-ticket sales record, with more than 37,000 sold. ... Six Cavaliers have earned their bachelor's degrees and are in graduate school this season: Canty, linebackers Dennis Haley and Jon Thompson, fullback Brandon Isaiah, wideout Michael McGrew, and safety Marquis Weeks. ... Kicker Connor Hughes made 23 of 25 field-goal attempts and all 40 of his extra-point kicks.
U.Va.'s snap decision
Groh calls on Hagans to validate Cavaliers' high expectations
BY JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Aug 11, 2004
Marques Hagans has thrown for 361 yards and four touchdowns and also averaged 7.4 yards a carry for Virginia. DEAN HOFFMEYER / TIMES-DISPATCH
Activity outside the McCue Center in Charlottesville will increase noticeably around 2:30 this afternoon. That's when the University of Virginia football team opens its fourth training camp under coach Al Groh.
Rarely have expectations been higher at Virginia. The Cavaliers, picked to finish third in the ACC behind Florida State and Miami, respectively, are ranked No. 19 in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll.
Numerous all-ACC candidates return from a team that finished 8-5 in 2003. They include tight end Heath Miller, offensive guard Elton Brown, tailback Wali Lundy, placekicker Connor Hughes, defensive end Chris Canty and linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Darryl Blackstock.
Senior offensive guard Elton Brown, junior offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, junior tight end Heath Miller and junior defensive end Brennan Schmidt.
The Cavaliers have become known for strong finishes in recent years, winning two of their final three games in 2001, three of their final four in'02 and their last three in'03. But Groh's overall record at his alma mater is a modest 22-17, and U.Va. has finished in the Top 25 only once during his tenure.
Virginia, Canty said, has "had a tremendous resolve to finish seasons, but I don't think we've been consistent throughout the season from the beginning to the end."
Canty and his teammates expect that to change this year.
"I feel like our team's right there at the door, knocking," Brown said. "Now it's just time to walk right in."
If quarterback Matt Schaub had another year of eligibility, the Cavaliers would be entrenched in the preseason top 10. But Schaub, who threw 28 touchdown passes in 2002 and 18 in'03, is now Michael Vick's understudy in Atlanta. Back in Charlottesville, Groh has entrusted his offense to 5-10 junior Marques Hagans, Schaub's backup the past two seasons.
The former Hampton High star has long been a favorite of U.Va. fans, but Hagans' most memorable moments have come at punt-returner and wideout, not quarterback.
"Let's say there were 75 plays in the game, and let's say he made six significant plays in the game," Groh said. "That's a pretty good ratio for a player who plays wide receiver. Now he's going to have to be a featured performer 75 plays in a row . . . That doesn't mean we don't think he can do that. That's just the transition he has to go through and that this team has to accommodate."
Virginia lacks experience and depth in the secondary, where starting safety Jermaine Hardy is coming off major knee surgery. Most of the Cavaliers' receivers are inexperienced. Still, Groh's greatest concern is the uncertainty at quarterback, where Hagans' backups include redshirt freshman Kevin McCabe and sophomores Anthony Martinez and Christian Olsen.
Quarterback is "the most dynamic position in organized sports today, in terms of how it can affect the game," Groh said, so "that if you get superior play it can magnify the results that the other 21 positions might have produced, and it can also minimize the results that the other 21 positions would have provided."
Hagans, who redshirted in 2001, has started two games at quarterback for Virginia. He's completed 31 of 51 passes for 361 yards and four touchdowns as a collegian, and he's averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Things could be worse for U.Va., which doesn't have to worry about breaking in a freshman.
"Marques has practiced at this position for three years," Groh said, "so he's a rookie in terms of playing, but he's not a rookie in terms of knowing the system. That should be a plus for him."
Virginia ready for run to glory
Ground game should flourish with added size, more experience
BY JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Aug 7, 2004
For the Cavaliers to reach their potential - they're ranked 19th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' preseason poll and were picked third in the ACC - they need to be able to run effectively when opponents know it's coming.
Groh believes that'll happen this season. His confidence appears well-founded. When he looks at his offense, Groh sees such returning starters as Brown, junior tight end Heath Miller, junior tackles D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brad Butler, senior center Zac Yarbrough and junior tailback Wali Lundy.
In 2003, Brown received the Jacobs Trophy as the ACC's top blocker. Miller made the all-ACC first team, and Lundy, the conference's fourth-leading rusher, made the second team.
Groh also sees senior tailback Alvin Pearman, who has rushed for 1,357 yards at U.Va., and senior tight end Patrick Estes, a crushing blocker. The likely starter at quarterback, junior Marques Hagans, is a dangerous runner, and tailback Michael Johnson and fullback Jason Snelling are available again after redshirting last season. Each played as a true freshman in 2002. Johnson is the team's fastest player, and Snelling is unusually swift for a fullback.