UVa fans Meet the Team
Brooks returns to squad
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 20, 2004
Virginia football coach Al Groh and his team welcomed close to 3,000 fans to Scott Stadium on Thursday for their annual “Meet the Team Day” festivities.
Those who were in attendance were treated to free autographs, music and tours of the locker room facilities. All of which did not compare to the real treat that the fans were given - the sight of sophomore linebacker Ahmad Brooks dressed in his blue UVa jersey.
After missing two days worth of practices with the team due to what Groh termed as “personal reasons,” Brooks was back with the team on Thursday.
When asked if the length of Brooks’ absence surprised him, Groh said: “I didn’t have any expectations on that but I knew he’d be with us pretty quickly.”
The Virginia Media Relations Department made Brooks available to the media in attendance but asked that the questions to the linebacker be limited to football-related questions.
One reporter pushed the issue and asked Brooks about missing two days of practice and the media’s portrayal of it.
“They blow everything up out of proportion. I have heard stories, people saying that me and Coach Groh got in arguments and disagreements and this and that ... that is not true,” Brooks said. “That has nothing to do with it.”
Brooks also said that it is unwarranted for people to discuss the possibility of him entering the NFL draft after his upcoming sophomore season. Brooks would be eligible for the draft since he would be three years removed from high school.
“People have said different stuff about me going to the NFL,” said Brooks, who attended Hargrave Military Academy. “I have never mentioned anything about me going to the NFL.”
Brooks also added that he was not the first UVa player to miss two days of practice.
Fan fare. Groh said on Thursday that he was pleased with the turnout at Scott Stadium.
“This is as much for the fans as it is for the players,” Groh said. “It’s increased every year.”
For one veteran player, it was by far the largest turnout he had witnessed at a “Meet the Team Day.”
Alvin Pearman had been at three other similar preseason events since he arrived into the program in 2001.
“My class has been here since day one and my first year there might have been a quarter of as many people as there has been throughout the day,”
Pearman said. “It is special just to see this program grow.
“It’s all very exciting, this whole program and what Coach Groh is doing. It is magnificent. Just to see things kind of evolve slowly and hopefully this year explode, after we do very well.”
Talking about tickets. Groh sounded pleased with the progress of season ticket sales. As of Thursday morning,
38,278 tickets were reportedly sold, leaving only 722 available to the public.
“We are very appreciative of 38,278 who signed up to be with us for everyone of those games,” Groh said. “They’re the foundation of it. By the same token, we are looking for those people who can just come every once in a while too. You don’t have to be a season-ticket holder to be on this train, because that broadens our fan base.”
Injury update. Patrick Estes, a senior tight end, has missed practice with what Groh classified as “migraine headaches.”
Groh said that he plans to have Estes competing again with the team in practice, but does not know when that will be.
“We expect to have Patrick back,” Groh said. “I don’t have a timetable on that.”
And then there were two. According to Groh, sophomore Sean Johnson and junior Kurt Korte have emerged as the only viable candidates for the vacant punting job when the season opens against Temple on Sept. 4 in Philadelphia.
Odd moment. Chris Long has always watched his father, Howie, a Pro Football Hall-of-Famer sign autographs, but he got to sign an odd request on Thursday.
Chris Long was asked to sign a hat for his younger brother Kyle. It brought a huge grin to the rookie Cavalier’s face, and yes, he signed the hat.
The younger Long brother also got an autograph from another local fan favorite, defensive end and former Charlottesville High star, Chris Johnson.
The T-word. When asked when the players would be introduced to Temple, Groh replied: That is a word that we have not used yet.
Groh said the team has six practices left in the training camp portion of the preseason and then they would shift gears (on Aug. 28) to getting ready for the Owls.
Ferguson has grown since his '246' days
By Jerry Ratcliffe / Daily Progress sports editor
August 20, 2004
D’Brickashaw Ferguson stood there in the burning Virginia sun on Thursday afternoon, took a break from signing autographs at the Cavaliers’ “Meet the Team Day” event, and remembered his first year of on-the-job training in a Wahoo uniform.
Yes, he was rated the No. 2 prospect in the state of New York coming out of Freeport High School, but when Virginia named him as its starting left offensive tackle, it raised more than a few eyebrows. Starting a true freshman on the offensive line was practically unheard of in major college football, but at the vital left tackle spot?
‘Little’ left tackle
That job is pretty much considered the body guard position because the left tackle must protect the quarterback’s blind side from the pass rush. Starting Ferguson was quite a leap of faith by coach Al Groh and offensive line coach Ron Prince back in 2002.
Ferguson was undersized and underexperienced but he started all 14 games on a team that won nine. For his effort, he was voted to at least one freshman All-America team.
There is some discrepancy in how he weighed in that season. Groh insists it was 246 pounds, which brings a grin to Ferguson’s friendly face. He admits he was small, but not quite that small.
“I think 246 is a little exaggeration,” said Ferguson, now standing 6-foot-5, 295 pounds after adding nearly 30 pounds of muscle since last season.
Brick’s bigger and better
So far in training camp the big New Yorker continued to make a big splash. He created quite a stir on Tuesday when he drove rookie defender Clint Sintim about 18 yards into the secondary.
“What you saw that day was something that D’Brickashaw probably couldn’t have done two years ago,” Groh said. “Now he has the ability to explode at his position.”
Ferguson said that his coach was probably right.
“I think I’m able to sustain blocks longer now,” the tackle said. “I think I’m a better run blocker just because I’m bringing more. A lot of times it’s about technique, but weight helps a lot.”
With Groh’s emphasis on the running game this season, Ferguson’s ability to play more physical football is essential. No longer is he the undersized guy. He has size, strength and experience with 27 consecutive starts under his belt.
The Canty experience
Not only that but he has gained valuable experience by going against Chris Canty in practice every day. Canty, a two-time, second-team All-ACC defensive end, is a formidable opponent, who forces Ferguson to play at his best every day.
That’s also a reason that fellow offensive lineman Elton Brown had this to say about Ferguson’s ability to put the slapdown on most of his opponents:
“Brick takes the best defensive end and puts them on mute for the game,” Big E said. “I’ve seen him take big
name guys and just silence them for the entire game. His pass blocking is tremendous and his run blocking gets better all the time.”
That wasn’t always the case. When Ferguson thinks back at his freshman campaign, he remembers it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
“When you look at 65,000 people in the stadium it can impact your life a little bit more than you would think,” he said. “I’ve had many conversations with Coach Groh and Coach Prince just speaking about those things. We speak about the mental aspect of the game, not necessarily the plays.”
A strongly religious young man, Ferguson said his faith also helped him through that first challenge as it continues to help him tackle (pun intended) new ones.
His 27-game starting streak at the left tackle spot is the longest since Ray “Puddin” Roberts’ stretch of 37 in a row from 1989-91. Roberts went on to an outstanding career with the Seattle Seahawks.
Groh looks at his tackle now and dares anyone to cross his path.
“If you could get a before and after picture, you wouldn’t have to write the story,” the coach said of Ferguson, a junior heading into the season. “This is one of those, ‘A picture tells a thousand words.’ Let’s say in his case, a picture tells 50 pounds.
“Although we didn’t publicize it much at the time, when he was playing as a true freshman, he was playing at 246,” Groh said. “It is pretty remarkable really, that a true freshman played left tackle on a team that won nine games at 246. That says a lot about the kid.
“And,” Groh added, “he still plays a mean saxophone.”
Ferguson says he blows every chance he gets, mostly gospel music and some jazz. That is when he isn’t hammering defensive ends back into their own secondary.
Groh isn’t ready to call him an elite player quite yet, but notes that he is a rising star and that if he continues to progress this year and next at the same rate, he will then establish himself as perhaps the elite player at his position in the ACC.
Canty’s just glad that the Brick is on his side.
Brooks fuss blows over
Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks returns to football practice after two days off.
By Doug Doughty
The Roanoke Times
The hurricane caused by linebacker Ahmad Brooks' two-day absence from Virginia football practice didn't even qualify as a tropical storm by Thursday afternoon.
When media and fans arrived at Scott Stadium for the Cavaliers' annual "Meet the Team Day," Brooks was there in uniform to greet them. "I never left," said Brooks, Virginia's leading tackler last year as a freshman.
Actually, Brooks had gone home to Woodbridge earlier in the week, "but I never left school, never left Virginia," he said.
"I guess [people] felt like I wasn't going to be here anymore. That was never an issue for me. It was blown out of proportion. I had to get back here and clear my name.
"I've heard stories that me and Coach [Al] Groh got in an argument. That's not true. It has nothing to do with that. People have mentioned different stuff about me going to the NFL. I've never mentioned going to the NFL."
Brooks probably isn't the first player to miss two days of practice.
"I'm not," he said. "Definitely not."
As he swatted at a bee, Brooks admitted he was stung at the beginning of preseason practice, when he was not wearing one of the orange jerseys awarded to the first-team defense.
"It was kind of devastating," he said, "but I've just got to work for what I get. Being on that Orange Crush defense means a lot."
Brooks, who was with the first defense at the end of spring practice, said he did not think his demotion was performance-related.
"It was more related to my personal issues," said Brooks, who declined to reveal what those issues are, or were.
Richie Bedesem, a fifth-year senior, has been running with the first-team defense at Brooks' old spot.
"He has a better understanding of the defense," Brooks said. "I understand the defense but he understands everything. Even when Angelo Crowell was here, [Bedesem] would teach him how to read plays.
"I've got to become more of a student of the game. If one person messes up, it's going to mess up your whole defense. When I first got here and they were rushing me to play, I really didn't have an understanding of the defense."
Brooks said his personal issues are behind him, but the coaches would like to see him drop 5-10 pounds.
"I've been eating a lot," said Brooks, who said he weighs 260. "I'm starting to feel like a D-end. They want me to be 255, but my father's big, my mother has big bones, so [the coaches] just don't understand how big I'm going to get.
"Ever since I was young, I've been gaining 20 pounds every year."
As his parents looked on, his father, Perry, from a wheelchair needed to support a cast on his left foot, Brooks signed autographs until only two other UVa players were joining him.
If not for his sabbatical, he still might have been the story Thursday because of Groh's revelation that he might use Brooks to return kickoffs.
"Now, they're talking about using me on goal-line offense at running back," Brooks said, "so, we'll see how that goes."
Brooks did not participate in Wednesday's second practice, which was devoted to special teams, but he was in town Wednesday night and attended a team meeting.
"Everybody seems happy that I'm here," he said. "I'm happy that I'm here myself. I knew I was going to be here. I don't feel like I left. I was just gone from football for two days."
U.Va.'s Brooks is back
Linebacker returns after missing two days of practice
BY JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Aug 20, 2004
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Surprise, surprise. Who should show up at Scott Stadium yesterday afternoon but No. 34?
Inside linebacker Ahmad Brooks' absence from the team caused much hand-wringing among Virginia supporters and spawned countless rumors this week. To fans' relief and delight, Brooks has returned.
When the 6-4, 260-pound sophomore from Woodbridge appeared for the Cavaliers' annual Meet the Team event yesterday, cheers rose from the crowd.
"Everybody's happy that I'm here," Brooks said. "I'm glad to be here myself."
The former Hylton High star missed U.Va.'s practices Tuesday and Wednesday to deal with what Al Groh called "personal issues." Groh didn't elaborate on those issues in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday afternoon, and he declined to say when or if Brooks would return to the team.
Virginia's fourth-year coach was more forthcoming yesterday.
"I knew he'd be back pretty quickly," Groh said.
Brooks, the Cavaliers' leading tackler as a true freshman in 2003, didn't discuss his "personal issues" yesterday but said they were behind him.
In a report on its Web site Wednesday afternoon, The Washington Post reported that Brooks had "missed his second straight day of practice . . . after getting into an argument with [Groh] during Monday's session."
The Post later removed that reference from its story, but Brooks said he heard about his alleged run-in with Groh from other sources, too.
"They blow everything up out of proportion," he said. "I've heard stories of people saying that me and coach Groh have gotten into arguments and disagreements and this and that. That's not true. That has nothing to do with it."
Groh yesterday raved about the "extraordinary" talent of Brooks, an all-ACC and, perhaps, All-America candidate. Yet from the start of training camp, Brooks has worked with the second-team defense.
Not being able to wear the orange jersey of a defensive starter has been "kind of devastating, but I just got to work for what I want to get," Brooks said. "That's for everything. Even you guys are working for a living, trying to get that money, so I got to work for that orange jersey."
Starting ahead of him has been senior Rich Bedesem, who Brooks said has "a better understanding of the defense. Me, I understand the defense, but he just understands everything."
That said, Brooks said he believes his second-team status is a result of his "personal issues" and not his performance on the field. He wore orange during spring practice and intends to reclaim that jersey.
"I'm still learning," Brooks said. "When I first got here, they were rushing me to play, and I really didn't understand the defense like that. But now I have a better understanding, and I'm going to perform well Sept. 4 [in the opener against Temple] and throughout the whole season. I'm ready."
Jacksonville to host ACC title game
By Jerry Ratcliffe / Daily Progress sports editor
ACC commissioner John Swofford said it was difficult to choose between bids from the seven cities that attempted to lure the conference’s first championship football game in 2005, but in the end Jacksonville, Fla., was the clear winner.
Swofford made the announcement Thursday afternoon after the league’s 11 faculty advisors voted unanimously to accept the recommendation from athletic directors in the league. Charlotte, N.C., Miami, Orlando, Fla., Tampa Bay, Fla., Baltimore and Landover, Md., were the other cities in the mix.
“This is another historic occasion for the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Swofford said. “We are extremely pleased to be able to bring the ACC football title game to Jacksonville. Alltel Stadium and the city of Jacksonville will provide our schools with not only an outstanding facility in which to play, but also an enthusiastic and progressive community that has always embraced college football.”
The inaugural ACC championship game will be played on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2005, with a 1 p.m. kickoff and will be televised nationally by ABC.
Jacksonville gets a two-year contract for the game, with an option for another two years.
“It was not an easy decision,” Swofford said. “The seven cities that submitted proposals to host this event submitted first-class proposals in every respect.”
Swofford said that while Jacksonville’s bid was the strongest financially of the seven proposals, that money was not the determining factor. Instead, the ACC was swayed more by the northern Florida city’s overall package, which was also the strongest of those submitted.
Figures of those bids were not disclosed, however it was noted that the city of Jacksonville will allow the ACC use of the stadium rent-free.
“Jacksonville is a hotbed of college football and the stadium is one of the finest facilities in football,” Swofford said.
Jacksonville mayor John Peyton, who describe his city as “the football capitol of the South,” noted that obtaining the ACC championship was a joint effort between the state of Florida, the city of Jacksonville and the Gator Bowl Association, which will act as the city’s agent in overseeing the title game. The NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, who play in the stadium, also gave the game their blessing.
“Jacksonville couldn’t be happier about hosting this game,” Peyton said. “We have always had a special spot in our hearts for college football as any Gator Bowl or Florida-Georgia participant can tell you. We look forward to working with the ACC to build another great football tradition here on the First Coast.”
Swofford said that while weather was a factor in the determination of a site for the game, it was not the deciding factor.
The ACC stands to gain at least $6 million for the game, which could not be played until the league added a 12th team. Miami and Virginia Tech join the conference this season as the 10th and 11th teams, while Boston College is set to become an official member on July 1, 2005.
Jacksonville, which annually hosts the Gator Bowl (the sixth-oldest bowl game) and the Florida vs. Georgia regular-season game (billed as “the World’s Largest Cocktail Party”), will also host the 2005 NFL Super Bowl. Alltel Stadium has a capacity of 77,497.
When Virginia coach Al Groh, whose Cavaliers were voted third in the ACC’s preseason poll last month, was informed of the Jacksonville selection, he seemed pleased.
“Wherever it is, we just hope we can get there someday,” Groh said. “It’s going to look the same to me, whichever tunnel I jog out of.”
Judge: Boston College doesn't have to pay larger Big East exit
BOSTON - The Big East can't impose a $5 million fine on Boston College for defecting to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and it can't force BC to remain in the conference for an extra 15 months, a Superior Court judge has ruled.
Wednesday's decision by Judge Allan van Gestel keeps Boston College on track to join the ACC next July and pay a $1 million withdrawal fee to the Big East.
After Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC in June 2003, the presidents of the remaining Big East schools sought to deter further defections by raising the withdrawal fee from $1 million to $5 million and increasing the withdrawal notice from 12 to 27 months.
Boston College supported the amendment when it was proposed in July 2003, but abstained from the Oct. 6, 2003, vote at which it was approved. Six days later, BC accepted an invitation to become the ACC's 12th member.
When the Big East sought to impose the new penalties on BC, the school sued, saying the conference had improperly amended its constitution. Van Gestel agreed, saying the Big East flouted its own rules when it created the harsher penalties.
"Whatever Boston College might have said about its state of discussions or its expressed acceptance of a $5 million, 27-month penalty, that did not impede the Big East's ability to correctly amend its Constitution," the judge said in his ruling.
"We are gratified that, after nearly a year of adverse and misleading public statements leveled against us, a respected judge has seen through to the actual merits of the case and has ruled in favor of Boston College," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said in a statement.
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said the conference was "extremely disappointed" in the decision was considering an appeal.
Charlotte's bid never had a chance
By CAULTON TUDOR, Staff Writer
The state of North Carolina's only hope of landing the ACC championship football game -- Charlotte's bid -- was a long shot from the moment that plans to play the game were announced.
This was Florida's baby all along. It was just a matter of where in Florida -- Jacksonville (the winner), Orlando or Tampa.
While Charlotte may get an opportunity to host the game someday, the proximity to the most powerful teams will always favor the Florida locations.
To some extent, the North Carolina-based teams have no one to blame but themselves. The last in-state team to win the league title outright was North Carolina in 1980, one year after N.C. State did so.
Duke shared the crown with Virginia in 1989 and went to the All-American Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. But before the team began to practice for the game, coach Steve Spurrier left for -- where else? -- Florida.
The ACC's decision was driven by money and geography. Not only was Jacksonville in a position to extend a more lucrative bid, it is a lot closer to Tallahassee and Miami than cities farther north.
It doesn't take a Bear Bryant to figure out that Florida State or Miami, probably both, will reach the championship game regularly. When it's Florida State, a stadium sellout will be no problem. The Hurricanes have fewer fans, but the team's popularity in the state will increase with ACC membership.
Jacksonville's dream game wouldn't be FSU vs. Miami, though. It would be one of those two against a team from the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland or Clemson. That matchup would bring in thousands of long-distance travelers who would spend a couple of nights in local hotels, maybe play a round of golf and pack the restaurants at night.
"It's the same situation as a bowl game," said Tom Mickle, executive director of the Capital One and Tangerine bowls in Orlando, which also made a bid. "Fans who drive in and back home on game day are very important, but what really helps the local economy more are the fans who come and stay two or three days."
The ACC's choice underscores that the conference now has two power centers -- North Carolina in basketball, Florida in football.
The league is merely playing to its strengths. As much as Maryland, Virginia and N.C. State have improved in football recently, there's no reason to believe Miami or FSU will retreat much in the future. FSU coach Bobby Bowden shows no signs of slowing down or getting bored, and Larry Coker has maintained Miami's status among college football's elite.
"If it's a good football game you want to see, then you need to come to the state of Florida. Everybody knows that," Miami quarterback Brock Berlin said last month.
Regarding this decision, you could have followed the money or followed the ball. Both were Florida-bound all the way.
Richmond Times-Dispatch Aug 20, 2004
HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE: Curt Dukes was a quarterback at Nebraska. At Duke, where he's eligible after sitting out last season, expect to see the 6-1, 215-pound sophomore from Stony Point, N.C., all over the field.
"We'll move Curt around and play him at some different places," Duke coach Ted Roof told the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun. "Running back, receiver, quarterback - whatever."
Dukes said: "I sat down with Coach Roof after spring football and just told him that I wanted to be on the field, whether it's quarterback, running back or receiver. I need to be on the field. It's been two years since I've played."
PRESSURE IS ON: In five seasons under coach Tommy Bowden, Clemson has won more than seven games twice. But the Tigers' fans expect big things from Bowden's team this season.
"I think if we win eight games, people will be disappointed," said star linebacker Leroy Hill.
Are such expectations reasonable for a team picked to finish fourth in the ACC? "Yeah," Hill said. "I think we can play with anybody."
Also at Clemson, backup tight end Bobby Williamson - who has 17 career receptions - moved to defensive end Wednesday. Clemson is banged up, with 14 players missing Wednesday's practice. Two defensive linemen were hurt in a scrimmage Tuesday, including defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson (broken foot).
HUGE LOSS: North Carolina's defense was among the weakest in Division I-A last season. The Tar Heels expect to be improved defensively this season, but the loss of their most experienced lineman, senior Chase Page, won't help their cause.
Page, who has started 24 games at tackle, had surgery Tuesday night to repair the flexor tendon he tore on his left hand in practice earlier that day. He'll miss the season.
"Chase was really the voice of our team," quarterback Darian Durant said, "but I think the seniors will step up and become more vocal."
Page hasn't redshirted, and he plans to return as a fifth-year senior in 2005.
"Now we have to close ranks," UNC coach John Bunting said. "I spoke to the team about that [Wednesday] morning. . . . We just became a younger team. He was a senior providing a lot of leadership. He'll still be able to provide that leadership from the sideline, but there is a difference in being out on the field."
MARKED IMPROVEMENT: Georgia Tech is pleased with the progress of quarterback Reggie Ball, who is entering his second season as the Yellow Jackets' starter. He became the ACC's rookie of the year last season as a true freshman, throwing 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
"He's probably taken the next step that we hoped he would take to this point, but it's not like he's reached a plateau," coach Chan Gailey told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're on steps, not plateaus
"He's got an understanding of the offense enough where we can adjust some things and it happens a lot quicker. Last year, we couldn't make [big] changes. We had to stay in the same family. Now, we can stay in the same state."
SPEAKING OF QUARTERBACKS: As expected, sophomore Joel Statham has taken the lead in Maryland's quarterback derby.
"He's just way ahead of the others right now," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen told the Baltimore Sun. "I'm not willing to commit to [Statham starting] right now, but I can't see one of the other guys overtaking him. I do want to wait and see how things go in the last scrimmage, but right now I'm very pleased with Joel." - Mike Harris and Jeff White
U.Va. Notes: Weighty matters for Ahmad Brooks
Richmond Times-Dispatch Aug 20, 2004
XXL: Sophomore linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who's listed in the U.Va. media guide at 6-4, 249 pounds, said yesterday that he weighs about 260.
"I've been eating a lot," Brooks said at media day. "I'm starting to fill into a D-end."
Brooks, whose father played defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, lines up at inside linebacker in Virginia's 3-4 scheme. His coaches "want me to be 255," Brooks said, "but I mean, my father, he's big. My mother has big bones. [The coaches] just don't understand how big I'm going to get."
He's known for his exceptional speed, and Brooks said he hasn't lost any, even with the added weight.
"I can do everything I need to do at 260, that's how I feel, but I really want to get down to 250 again," he said. "But it's kind of hard, when you like to eat."
NEARLY GONE: By the end of business Wednesday, U.Va. had sold 38,278 season tickets for football. The previous school record of 36,225 was set in 2003.
Virginia plans to cut off season-ticket sales at 39,000. For ticket information, call (800) 542-8821 or (434) 924-8821.
NEW ROLES: As a senior at Hylton High in Woodbridge, Brooks rushed for 848 yards and averaged 12.6 yards per carry. That's one reason why Cavaliers coach Al Groh is getting creative.
"Coach Groh said, 'How would you like to play special teams returning kickoffs?'" Brooks said with a smile. "I was like, 'That sounds good.' He came to me and asked me if I wanted to do it, and now they're talking about me playing goal-line offense at running back, so we'll see how that goes."
AND THEN THERE WERE TWO: Tom Hagan, Virginia's punter in 2002 and '03, gave up football before spring practice to concentrate on baseball. In the competition to determine Hagan's successor, two leaders have emerged.
"I'd say at this time that - I guess this is after the New Hampshire primary - there are only really two candidates left for this season," Groh said, "and that's Korte and Johnson."
Kurt Korte, a junior from Virginia Beach, is a transfer from William and Mary. When Groh coached U.Va.'s freshman team in the early '70s, his offensive linemen one season included Korte's father, George. Sean Johnson, a junior from McLean, spent the past two years on a Mormon mission.
Virginia's other punters include true freshman Chris Gould, who's also a place-kicker, and sophomore Noah Greenbaum, a walk-on from Collegiate.
FULL RIDES: Since spring practice, Groh has awarded scholarships to three players who began their careers at U.Va. as walk-ons: special teams standout Isaiah Ekejiuba, long-snapper Justin Markey and linebacker Adam Rhodes.
Ekejiuba is an electrical-engineering major from Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.; Markey, a sports-medicine major from Louisa County High; and Rhodes, a commerce major from Harrisonburg High.
TAKING IT SLOW: Migraine headaches have kept tight end Patrick Estes, a Benedictine High graduate, from practicing recently.
"I made the first couple practices, then we went into pads, and I didn't feel that great," said Estes, a 6-7, 285-pound senior. "The third day of pads, I stopped, and they've held me since."
Groh said he expects Estes back this season but isn't sure when. Estes said he's "feeling good now and should be back in the swing [soon]."
NEW 'DO: The Cavaliers had their team picture taken yesterday, and junior defensive end Brennan Schmidt made sure he wouldn't melt into the crowd of players. Schmidt showed up sporting a Mohawk, a look that later proved to be a crowd-pleaser at Scott Stadium, where the U.Va. players signed autographs. - Jeff White
New Deal: Cavaliers expect unknown Hagans to lead them
By Jerry Ratcliffe
MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE
All eyes will be on new quarterback Marques Hagans as Virginia heads into its fourth season under Al Groh.
Hagans might be the most athletic quarterback the Cavaliers have had since Shawn Moore in the 1990s, but skeptics wonder if he can master the job previously held by record-setting Matt Schaub. Hagans spent the past two seasons as Schaub's backup, but most of his playing time was at wide receiver and as a punt returner.
In his one starring role at quarterback last year, Hagans threw for 162 yards and three touchdowns and scrambled for another 68 yards in a landslide win at Western Michigan. He might be the best rushing quarterback in the ACC.
Because Hagans is somewhat of an unknown as a passer, and Virginia's wide receivers are suspect, there could be changes in how the Cavaliers play offense. Previously one of the top passing programs in the ACC, Virginia might become more physical in featuring the running game.
There are plenty of reasons to focus on the ground attack. UVa's big offensive line returns intact, led by Elton Brown, an Outland Trophy candidate, at right guard and a bigger and better D'Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle. Offensive coordinator Ron Prince's backfield features experienced tailbacks Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman, who finished among the ACC's top nine rushers last season.
"We ought to be able to run the ball with more authority than at any time in the previous three years because of the development of the players," Groh said. "That was significant coming down the home stretch last year. In the three games we won (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh), we were able to run with good authority in all three, and we have to do that, especially in November."
Although Groh rates the Cavs in better shape at wide receiver than they were before last season, Michael McGrew is the only truly experienced returnee. McGrew, a fifth-year player with more than 60 career catches, sat out last season with a broken leg.
Virginia's true offensive strength is its versatility. Consider that Lundy, Pearman and fullback Jason Snelling, who sat out last season because of a medical condition, have a combined 227 career receptions and 19 touchdown catches.
Throw in an All-America candidate in Heath Miller, who has set most of UVa's and the ACC's receiving records for tight ends, and it is enough to disturb sleep patterns of most opposing defensive coordinators. There's also Michael Johnson, who has added bulk as a third tailback option but can also stretch defenses with his blazing speed.
In only two seasons, Miller has 15 touchdown catches in 27 starts. He also led the nation in receptions by a tight end last season with 70.
"We have a lot of guys who, during the course of any series, could end up in a lot of different spots and end up getting the ball in a lot of different ways," said Groh, who has featured plenty of razzle-dazzle in his offensive playbook. "And our quarterback has good versatility, too."
VIRGINIA AT A GLANCE
• Last year's record: 8-5 (4-4 ACC)
• Coach: Al Groh (48-57 in nine seasons overall, 22-17 in three seasons at Virginia)
• Last bowl appearance: 2003 Continental Tire, defeated Pittsburgh 23-16
• Strengths: The Cavaliers might have the best linebackers in the nation, and the running game should be outstanding with three experienced backs and a big line returning intact. Virginia also has record-breaking tight end Heath Miller and nearly flawless place-kicker Connor Hughes
• Weaknesses: The secondary is talented but inexperienced. The same is true at quarterback. There isn't a proven punter on the roster.
• Best returning players: TE Heath Miller, OG Elton Brown, RB Wali Lundy, RB Alvin Pearman, DE Chris Canty, LB Ahmad Brooks, LB Darryl Blackstock, LB Kai Parham
• Best newcomers: CB Philip Brown, CB Marcus Hamilton, RB Michael Johnson, WR Deyon Williams
• Key losses: QB Matt Schaub, WR Ottowa Anderson, WR Ryan Sawyer, CB Almondo Curry, DB Jamaine Winborne, LB Ray Mann
• Keys to the season: Everything revolves around whether new QB Marques Hagans can handle the job and whether the secondary can mature quickly. If the Cavs are to contend, they must win at home, where they'll play Miami, Clemson and Maryland.
• They'll beat ... Temple, Akron, Syracuse, North Carolina, Clemson, Duke, Maryland and Virginia Tech.
• They'll lose to ... Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech
- Jerry Ratcliffe
Junior Connor Hughes could be one of the best kickers in the nation - he made 22 of 25 field-goal attempts last season, including three from 50 yards or more.
Virginia's defense could be its best in nearly a decade. Groh's 3-4 scheme is predicated on linebacker play, and he has some of the country's best in Darryl Blackstock, Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham.
All three have been freshmen All-Americas, and Brooks finished fourth in the nation in tackles by a rookie with 117. Blackstock finished in the ACC's top 10 in sacks and tackles for losses last season as he became a more complete linebacker, and they call Parham "the hammer" for a reason.
Virginia has three veterans on its defensive line - ends Chris Canty, a two-time second-team All-ACC player, and Brennan Schmidt, and Andrew Hoffman in the middle. Canty and Schmidt were the ACC's top two tacklers among defensive linemen last season.
"We certainly should expect that we're going to play good defense," Groh said. "If you're going to be in the championship hunt, you have to play good defense. But games are lost in a hurry on the back end. That's where our real challenge is."
Groh says he thinks that Virginia has its best combination of overall athletic ability in the secondary, but the experience is moderate, and there's little depth.
"That could turn out to be the best that it has been for us," Groh said of the defensive backfield. "It could also be a little early challenge."
Tony Franklin and Marcus Hamilton nailed down starting roles at cornerback in the spring, and Marquis Weeks took over one of the safety spots. Franklin started some last season as a redshirt freshman, and Weeks moved over from tailback in the spring because of the logjam at the position.
The other safety probably will be Jermaine Hardy, who started there some last season after playing cornerback for most of his career. Hardy has recuperated from a knee injury that kept him out of spring drills. Lance Evans and Robbie Catterton will battle for playing time at safety, and freshman Philip Brown could make an immediate impact at corner.
Virginia's other question mark is punter, where there isn't a player on the roster with notable game experience.
Ahmad Brooks is back
Albert impressive on the hoof
By Doug Doughty
THE ROANOKE TIMES
Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks has rejoined the football team after a two-day leave of absence. He attended UVa's media day today and will return to practice Friday.
That's news as of 5 p.m. today, Thursday. Earlier today, I said that if I had to lay odds, I'd say the chances are greater that Ahmad Brooks will play football for Virginia in 2004 than in 2005.
On the other hand, if Brooks returns from a leave of absence with a renewed commitment to college football, it might be a double bonus for the Cavaliers.
The exact nature of the "personal issues" that sent Brooks home to Woodbridge has not been revealed. We know more about what it was not.
Head coach Al Groh said Wednesday that he had not seen final grades for the summer session, so, while it's conceivable that Brooks could be in academic difficulty, that was not the issue behind his departure.
It also seemed unlikely that Brooks was in legal difficulty. He was charged with possession of marijuana after pot was found in a car in which he was riding in May 2003, but he pleaded no contest and the charge was dismissed in January 2004.
Brooks was placed on six months' probation and was required to perform 24 hours of community service. A Southwest Virginia judge said Wednesday that it would be highly unlikely that a case would be dismissed if community service had not been completed.
When Groh said Wednesday that Brooks was enjoying a "great" training camp and that his attitude had been "terrific," I was in no position to dispute him, having attended one of the six practice sessions that were open to the media. That was one of the two practices Brooks missed.
However, it was widely reported that Brooks had not been wearing one of the orange jerseys awarded to the defensive starters, so, presumably, something was at work. There is no more gifted UVa defender.
If I'm not mistaken, Brooks indicated when he signed with Virginia that he was planning to complete his college eligibility, but he has the kind of talent and bloodlines, as the son of ex-Washington Redskins defensive lineman Perry Brooks, that would make him a likely first-round NFL choice.
In the past, Brooks would have had to wait until the spring of 2006 to make himself available to the NFL, but he comes under the new Larry Fitzgerald exemption. Fitzgerald played two years at Pittsburgh, but, because that was preceded by a year in military school, three years had elapsed since his high school graduation and he was allowed to go to the NFL.
The same would apply to Brooks, who graduated from Hylton High School in 2002, spent the fall of 2002 at Hargrave Military Academy and enrolled at Virginia in January 2003.
Virginia should be happy that outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock didn't look into the same option because Blackstock spent a full year at Fork Union Military Academy before enrolling at Virginia in the fall of 2002. This will be his third year at UVa.
In Groh's three seasons at Virginia, only one Virginia player with remaining college eligibility has made himself available to the NFL Draft, wide receiver and kick returner Tavon Mason, who went undrafted in the spring of 2002. It could happen this year with Brooks, Blackstock and tight end Heath Miller.
A respected source earlier today told me that Brooks whould be back in a week's time, maybe even UVa's media day today, and almost certainly will play Sept. 4 in the opener at Temple. From a talent standpoint, the Cavaliers should value every game they have him.
MAYBE IT WAS THE NUMBER "3," but Olu Hall looked more like a running back or a safety when I met him Saturday at Hargrave Military Academy's annual football media day.
"It's the number they issued me," said Hall, a defensive end at Robinson High School last year, when he was rated the No. 1 prospect in Virginia by The Roanoke Times. "The player makes the number, I think."
Hall, listed at 6 foot 4, said he weighs between 220 and 225 pounds and said, had he worked, that he could have gotten up to the 260 or 270 pounds desirable for defensive end, the poisition for which some teams projected him. To me, it doesn't appear that he has that kind of frame and that he is physically well-suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Hall, who signed with Virginia in January, said he remains committed to UVa and Hargrave's relations with the Cavaliers are such that Hargrave coach Robert Prunty is certain to shield him.
Hall would like to enroll at Virginia for the second semester, if he gets the test score he needs on the SAT, but UVa does not make a regular practice of enrolling students, athletes or student-athletes at mid-year. Hall's coach at Robinson, Mark Bendorf, has said that Hall will benefit from a year of prep school from a playing standpoint.
"I agree with him; I've still got a lot to learn about playing linebacker," Hall said, "but I was still really upset when this happened. I had a 3.2 [grade-point average] my junior year and a 2.7 my senior year. I never thought that qualifying would be an issue."
VIRGINIA FANS SADDENED by the loss of the state's top-ranked line prospect, Boston College-bound Pat Sheil, would be heartened by the sight of Hall's Hargrave teammate and fellow Virginia signee, Brandon Albert, who was listed at 6-7 and 340 pounds when he got to Hargrave.
I wouldn't say Albert looks lean, but he isn't fat.
In fact, if Albert gets his test score -- and he lacks only 20 points -- he may play basketball for Hargrave. He averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds last year at Glen Burnie (Md.) High School.
Albert was recruited by mid-major Division I basketball programs, "but I thought the possibility of making the NFL was greater than playing in the NBA as a 6-6 or 6-7 power forward," he said.
Albert said he was recruited by ex-UVa assistant Kevin Ross before Ross joined his father's staff at Army and, when UVa line coach Ron Prince followed up, the Cavaliers became the only Division I-A program to offer him a scholarship.
Albert had failed a grade in Rochester, N.Y., before joining his brother, ex-Maryland football player, Ashley Simms, in the Baltimore area. Albert got back on track by going to night school and summer school and it wasn't long after he started playing football that he "knew I could play at the next level," he said.