Proof is in the Peerman
UVa freshman is adapting quickly
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 25, 2004
Cedric Peerman has already proved he can carry the football. In high school, it seemed that Peerman spent more time in the endzone than anywhere else.
The William Campbell product scored a state-record 708 points and tallied 112 touchdowns, the second-highest total ever in the Virginia High School League.
Peerman also rushed for 5,078 yards in his four-year career and registered
100 yards or more in 23 games.
Now Peerman is tackling a different obstacle - the Virginia playbook.
In high school, Peerman’s duties typically involved taking a handoff and darting toward a first down or even better, a touchdown.
In UVa’s offensive system, running backs are asked to do a lot more. From pass catching to blocking, it can be overwhelming for many freshmen.
Peerman seems to be making the adjustment in stride and more importantly, the highly-touted back has faired rather well in recognizing when Virginia’s linebackers are blitzing.
“He has certainly got enough toughness to step up and take them on,” Virginia coach Al Groh said on Tuesday. “He has seen a lot of different looks here. He can still be a ball in high grass sometimes, but overall, I’d say he has shown a real willingness to try to learn it.”
Groh said that it is imperative for any running back that wants to play to master picking up blitzes.
“If all a back can do is carry the ball, he eventually becomes a liability,” Groh said. “The thing that keeps them out of getting in games when they first get here is pass protection. If a guy does not know his blitz pickup, you just can’t put him in the game. It limits you too much or puts your quarterback in too much risk.”
Groh stressed that there are two important factors a back must learn, “Who to block,” and “How to do it.”
Peerman’s hard work and efforts to learn the system have impressed his fellow running backs, namely Michael Johnson.
Johnson, who openly admits that he struggled with blitz pickups as a freshman, raved about Peerman’s abilities during Virginia’s Media Day last Thursday.
“The main thing in college [for a running back] is blitz pickup. If you don’t know the blitz pickup, you probably will not play very much,” Johnson said. “Coach Groh always says he knows you can run. If you couldn’t run, he would not have recruited you. He wanted that guy that could be a complete back … catching the ball in the backfield and throwing a block, all of that.
“Ced is picking up on the blitz real well. It’s kind of hard when you see Kai Parham coming down and Ahmad Brooks coming down the pipe on you,” Johnson added. “You have to step in and fit in there. It was a little hard for me too, the first time. Now I know how to block big guys, but Ced, he learned pretty fast. He is going to be all right. Ced has impressed me a lot.”
Groh also noted that it is important for a running back in his system to be able to, “expand the versatility of the offense by getting them in on the passing game.”
Peerman caught 12 passes as a senior for 203 yards and amassed 787 yards in his career.
Taking two kickers. Groh confirmed in Tuesday’s teleconference that kickoff specialist Kurt Smith will serve as the backup for placekicker Connor Hughes. Also, Hughes will return the favor for Smith should he need relief on kickoffs.
Groh said that with both kickers traveling with the squad to road games, it is unnecessary to bring a third kicker.
“[Smith will] be at the games and there really doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason, since Kurt and Connor can each do the other person’s job, to bring a third [kicker]. They’ll back each other up,” Groh said.
Scouting the young secondary. After 14 practices, Groh has been able to see what most of the newest Cavaliers can do. One group that has continued to impress are the newcomers in the secondary.
Three incoming freshmen - Bud Davis, Jamaal Jackson and Nate Lyles - have turned heads in work with the safeties and Philip Brown, Chris Gorham and Mario Moore are progressing as cornerbacks.
It has not gone unnoticed by Groh.
“That is a group because of their youthfulness, [that] has the potential to make a lot of progress everyday and that certainly has been the case,” Groh said. “We have two very promising young corners and three very promising safeties.”
Groh has told the players what he is looking for, if the players want to reach the field as freshmen.
“I have expressed to them, as to all the first-year players, what I’m looking for is a couple of the rookie players to surprise us and surprise everybody and come in and be candidates for playing time in a situation where nobody might of expected that they would do that,” Groh said. “You can see varying degrees of how guys have taken to that opportunity, but there are a few that are really trying to chase down that chance.”
No changes in starting defense. When asked on Tuesday if Marcus Hamilton had reclaimed his orange jersey, which signifies a starting spot on defense, Groh replied, “We haven’t made any lineup changes here in the last week or so.”
Marching to the beat of a different drummer. Although practice was closed on Monday to the media and to the public, Groh did welcome a host of visitors - the Cavalier Marching Band.
“Last night, we invited our band to come over to give us a little concert at the end. They did a fantastic job,” Groh said. “They had a couple of pretty energetic numbers and we had a little dance demonstration from a couple of our players. Everybody had fun with that. I was very impressed with how the band played. That was fun.”
Some call it a talent show. With 14 days of training camp in the books, Groh said the players have had a few opportunities to get in a few laughs.
Most recently, Groh and the veterans witnessed the “rookie talent show,” although the coach quipped, “You will use the word ‘talent’ loosely there.”
Groh added, “Everybody had fun with that.”
Aiding the cause
Cavaliers' Isaiah is eager to help team any way he can
By John Shifflett / Daily Progress staff writer
August 25, 2004
Virginia senior fullback Brandon Isaiah is ready to contribute.
Whether it is running the football, returning kicks, blocking, tackling or catching passes out of the backfield, he is ready to do it.
One of the main ways the Winston-Salem, N.C., native hopes to contribute is by getting more playing time at fullback. With last year’s starting fullback Kase Luzar departed, Isaiah will compete for time at the position with sophomore Jason Snelling.
Snelling, a L.C. Bird graduate, redshirted last season after playing in 2001. This season, he will provide stiff competition for Isaiah.
In his freshman season, Snelling made a major impact in the Cavalier passing game at fullback, catching 31 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns. On the ground, he rushed for 38 yards on nine carries. Even though they are competing for time at the same position, Isaiah is thrilled Snelling is back on the field.
“He wasn’t there last year so I had been kind of missing him out there,” Isaiah said of his teammate. “We are real good friends and we make each other better. It’s been a pleasure. It’s working out for him and it’s working out for me.”
That friendship has helped the two keep the competition for playing time in perspective.
“We know how to separate it out on the field,” said Isaiah, who caught four passes last season as a fullback, including a 9-yard touchdown reception at Western Michigan. “It is nothing personal. We both want to play. We both want to help the team out anyway we can. ... It is not necessarily a competition. We just want to play.”
Snelling echoes those same sentiments. The 5-foot-11, 245-pound Chester native also considers Isaiah a mentor.
“[Having each other on the field] helps me more,” Snelling said. “Brandon is older than me, so he has been in this position a little longer and he knows a lot of things I don’t. He really helps me out on the field.”
But playing fullback will not be all Isaiah will be asked to do. Isaiah also expects to be a contributor on special teams.
Last season, Isaiah saw time on both the kickoff and return teams. He returned one kickoff last season for nine yards and made two tackles in kick coverage.
“[I will be doing] the same thing [as last season],” Isaiah said of his special team duties. “I hope my role might increase a little bit in the offense because we have so much talent.”
Though he is listed as a redshirt senior, Isaiah hopes to receive another year of eligibility from the NCAA. After redshirting in 2000, Isaiah hurt his ACL in Virginia’s 2001 season opener at Wisconsin and missed the remainder of the year. Isaiah said he will apply for a sixth year of eligibility, but will worry about that when the time comes.
“I am not really worried about that right now.” Isaiah said. “I will worry about that when I get the chance.”
Regardless if he is on the field for a majority of the plays or sees playing time on a limited basis, Isaiah mainly wants one thing: for Virginia to win football games.
“First and foremost, I want to win,” Isaiah said. “[I will do] whatever I have to do to help us win. One game, I might just not play as much; one game I might play a little bit. Sometimes I may have to play a lot more. Whatever the team needs me to do, I will do it. I just want to win.”
For Estes, headaches aren't only on field
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 25, 2004
Over the course of the past three seasons, Patrick Estes has been a fixture on the field.
The senior tight end has only missed three games over that span.
That number could rise to four when the Cavaliers open the season in Philadelphia on Sept. 4 against Temple.
Estes, who has played in 35 games in his college career, has not been able to practice in the preseason due to what Virginia coach Al Groh termed “migraine headaches.”
Groh said on Wednesday that he is monitoring the situation closely and he will not rush Estes back into action.
“We have just decided to take a very conservative approach with him and try to get this thing taken care of once and for all, rather than to jump in too early and have the situation reoccur and then we are right back where we were,” Groh said. “If he wasn’t a veteran player, we probably couldn’t take that approach.”
Like Groh has referred to earlier in the preseason period, his biggest priority is making sure the players on his roster are healthy when the season starts.
“It’s all about getting the players to the game,” Groh said. “If that’s what it takes to get them to the game, then that’s what has to be done.”
Estes’ absence in practice has opened the door for redshirt freshman Jonathan Stupar to make a favorable impression on Groh and the coaching staff.
“John has shown all the promise that we thought that he had,” Groh said.
As a high school senior in State College, Pa., Stupar caught 45 passes for 515 yards and four touchdowns. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming named him an All-American.
Another benefactor has been true freshman Tom Santi. Groh confirmed that Santi has slid into the third tight end spot during Estes’ absence.
Groh said that it is unclear how many tight ends will make the trip to Temple.
“It depends upon their versatility. In the case of our guys, they are all pretty versatile,” Groh said. “They play special teams roles. Some of them are on-the-line tight ends; some of them are on-the-move tight ends.
“I would say between the fullback and the tight end position that we would use six different functions in the game. There might be four tight ends and two fullbacks at the game. It might be three fullbacks and three tight ends. Those are guys … that also ought to be primary special teams players, so sometimes the determination of what the split is 4-2,
2-4, 3-3 is based as much on special teams as much as the offensive function.”
An injury to Lundy? Groh confirmed that tailback Wali Lundy was injured earlier this week in practice. He did not disclose what the injury was or its severity.
Not a Long wait. Redshirting local standout Chris Long this season does not appear to be in Groh’s plans.
“I would be surprised if we don’t use him this year,” Groh said. “It is certainly going in that direction.”
Groh also hinted that Long could be used on special teams.
“We are always looking for a big, fast, tough kind of [guys] in the middle on kickoff coverage,” Groh said.
Groh said he also plans to use reserve linebacker Brian White on kickoff coverage.
A special practice. Wednesday’s practice was used to focus on special teams. While Connor Hughes and Kurt Smith are locked in at placekicker and kickoff specialist, respectively, the spot at punter remains open.
Sean Johnson and Kurt Korte are battling for the position and Groh said it might be a “photo finish.”
“I had a visual evaluation of [the punters] today. We will be able to get in down in more specifics when we look at the tape here in a little while,” Groh said. “I’d say it continues to be pretty close.”
Another tight battle is ongoing for the starting long-snapper job. Freshman Tyrus Gardner and junior Justin Markey are the leading candidates for the spot.
“I would say that one is a coin flip,” Groh said.
Wednesday’s practice also allowed Groh an opportunity to a number of players time returning punts.
“We have a number that I would be comfortable with and I think ultimately it is just going to be [a] coach’s decision,” Groh said. “On punts, really what we’re looking for is the best punt catcher, first and foremost, and a guy who can secure the ball [and] make good decisions.
“The kind of decisions that a guy makes down around the 10-yard line, whether to catch it or let it go, those kind of things are as important to the conduct of the game as his ability to run one back,” Groh added. “We are charting all of those decisions. We had a lot of those [Wednesday]. We got a lot of different work to a lot of different guys so it’s just really a question of whatever I decide.”
Making the move. Nate Lyles, a true freshman from Chicago, has moved onto the two-deep after Robbie Catterton elected to transfer to James Madison University.
Getting a day off. After
15 days of training camp, the players will get a day off from all football activities today.
Groh said the players would use the day to move out of the Cavalier Inn, where they stayed as a team since practice opened, and “into their regular school year residence.”
Groh said the players should benefit from the day off.
“I think at this stage a break for them is more important for them than more work,” Groh said.
Cavs traveling to Montreal for 3 days
By Andrew Joyner / Daily Progress staff writer
August 26, 2004
The Virginia men’s basketball team will get an early jump on its 2004-05 season with a short trek north of the border.
The Cavaliers will visit Montreal for a three-game trip beginning Oct. 8.
The Cavaliers will depart for Montreal on Oct. 7 and will face the Royal Military College, Concordia and the McGill University on their trip.
Such trips are allowed every four years per NCAA regulations. The Cavaliers last had such an excursion prior to the 2000-01 campaign when they traveled to Europe in the summer of 2000.
“I think the trip will be beneficial for our team and especially our young first-year players, who are allowed to go on the trip,” said Virginia coach Pete Gillen. “It’s a chance to face competition for those young guys and also for the older and veteran players as well. It will help them get acclimated to playing with each other.”
As Gillen noted, the NCAA allows teams to have 10 practices in preparation for such trips. All things considered, that may be perhaps the most beneficial portion of the trips. Those practices can be held on any 10 days prior to departure and not just the 10 immediate days before leaving for the trip.
If Virginia fans are looking for any kid of omen, the last two times Virginia took similar journeys - in the summers of 1996 and 2000 - it made the NCAA tournament the following season.
'Tep' laying down law, for now
UVa walk-on receiver Imhotep Durham recently scored 163 on his LSAT, but is now thinking only about playing time.
By Doug Doughty
The Roanoke Times
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Ordinarily, Virginia football coach Al Groh doesn't encourage his players to skip spring practice. On the other hand, nobody has had a better excuse than walk-on wide receiver Imhotep Durham.
Durham, part of a nine-child family from Brooklyn, N.Y., helps pay for his education by working in the dean's office. "I had worked and played football before and it wasn't really good for my grades," said Durham, called "Tep" by his teammates. "Since I'm going to be applying to law school, I really couldn't take the chance of having another bad semester."
Moreover, he was enrolled in a course to help prepare for the Law School Admissions Test.
"With me having to work, take a preparatory course and be in school, I knew it wasn't in my best interest to participate in football as well," Durham said.
Although he could give no assurance that he would return and no longer had a "bio" in the Cavaliers' media guide, Durham was on hand for the start of preseason drills, armed with a 163 score on the LSAT. That's in the 90th percentile, Durham said.
Obviously, he's serious about a career in the law. At the end of the spring semester, he interned in the First Judicial District of Philadelphia for commerce court Judge C. Darnell Jones.
Considering he has never played in a college game and has never made the travelling squad for a road game, Durham is also serious about football - just not as a career.
"I just came back because I thought that this was a very special team and [football] makes my time at UVa that much more enjoyable," he said. "If I didn't play, I didn't play, and if I did play, I did play and I'd be happy.
"I also wanted to make sure that I had no regrets. I didn't want to be 25, 27, 30, and wondering what might have happened. I probably wouldn't be in this chair [doing interviews] right now."
Durham recently came to attention when, during the six days of practice that were open to the media, he made some catches of the eyebrow-raising variety.
"Last year, on the show team against our defense, he was a challenge every day," Groh said. "So, he kind of distinguished himself in that area. He's like one of those Boston Marathon guys. He's got great stamina and he never seems to wear out."
On a team with only five scholarship wide receivers, Durham (5 feet 11, 168 pounds) has a chance to play in a game for the first time.
Groh asked for no promises from Durham last spring "but the circumstances he finds himself in now, he might have found himself just that much earlier," he said.
It might have helped if Durham had played football in high school, or even went to a school that had a football team.
"My whole life, my mom had been against me playing football," Durham said.
Finally, when he was a senior at the Bronx High School of Science, Durham found his way onto the Brooklyn Patriots, a recreation-league team.
"Once she had seen me play that year, she gained confidence in my abilities," he said. "When I made the UVa team, she was excited."
Many of UVa's walk-ons are players with whom the Cavaliers became familiar in the process of recruiting. Durham answered an ad for tryouts in the spring of his freshman year.
He had been ill prior to the tryouts and weighed between 140 and 150 pounds, drawing snickers from the UVa training staff.
The same tryouts produced another all-name team candidate, Isaiah "Ike" Ekejuiba, a native Nigerian who had played at a prep school in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. Ekejuiba, a second-semester sophomore when he walked on, played in every game last year and recently was awarded a scholarship for his fifth year.
"He's been my roommate for a lot of the things we do," Durham said. "If I could be half as good as Ike on special teams, it would make my day. I'm the No.1 Ike fan."
Durham hopes to emulate Ekejuiba and gain a spot on special teams. This probably will be his last chance because law school beckons and he doesn't think there's much chance he will receive a scholarship for this season or a potential fifth year.
"I find of figured that me leaving [in the spring] would rule that out," he said.
He might be surprised. Groh annually analyzes scholarship numbers at the end of preseason camp and the departure of three scholarship players could open a grant for Durham, among others.
Said Groh: "He's one of the guys who would be on the short list."
Hokies, Cavaliers still have shot at Williams
Virginia and Virginia Tech each remain in the running for Derrick Williams, an all-purpose threat from Greenbelt, Md., who is rated the No.1 prospect in the country by SuperPrep magazine.
The Hokies and Cavaliers are among 13 schools that have made Williams' latest cut, although SuperPrep includes only eight on a list that accompanies publisher Allen Wallace's preseason list of the nation's top 50 prospects. Although Williams has expressed sincere interest in the Cavaliers and Hokies, the schools that Wallace lists are Florida, Miami, Penn State, Florida State, Tennessee, Texas and Southern California.
"That's just my feeling," said Wallace, who only had room for eight schools. "To me, those are the eight schools with the best shot."
Virginia Tech's pitch to Williams (6 feet, 189 pounds) is that it will enable him to play quarterback, his position at Eleanor Roosevelt. Virginia and most other schools are recruiting him as a wide receiver.
UVa already has commitments from two of the players on the SuperPrep preseason top 50, offensive lineman Eugene Monroe from Plainfield, N.J., and cornerback Mike Brown from Jersey City, N.J.
The Cavaliers have commitments from six preseason SuperPrep All-Americans, including a third New Jersey prospect, linebacker Lamont Robinson from Salem, N.J., and three Virginians. They are linebackers Darryl Gresham from Roanoke and Antonio Appleby from Virginia Beach, as well as Gretna quarterback Vic Hall.
The Hokies have a commitment from SuperPrep preseason All-American Deveon Simmons, a linebacker from Virginia Beach, and are under consideration with four national top-50 recruits, including Williams and Randallstown, Md., defensive lineman Melvin Alaeze, a 6-foot-2, 273-pounder who said he is likely to visit Tech.
Highland Springs football coach Scott Burton said Wednesday that running back-defensive back Victor Harris has whittled his choices to six - Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Southern California, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Harris (6 foot, 180 pounds) is a consensus choice as the No.1 prospect in Virginia.
When North Carolina football recruit Michael Rozier elected to sign a baseball contract on the eve of fall workouts, the Tar Heels extended a scholarship to Joey Bozich, a 6-3, 225-pound quarterback from Hinsdale, Ill., whose original intention was to play at Bridgeton (Maine) Academy this fall.
Running back Barrington Edwards has packed up his BCS national-championship ring and transferred from LSU to North Carolina. Edwards, from Bowie, Md., rushed for 169 yards in limited duty as a freshman last year at LSU but trailed two classmates on the Tigers' depth chart.
College football preview: University of Virginia
By ED MILLER, The Virginian-Pilot
© August 26, 2004
CHARLOTTESVILLE — “Pretty good” is no longer good enough for the Virginia Cavaliers.
During the past two seasons, Virginia has won 17 games, taken home a pair of Continental Tire Bowl trophies and earned a reputation as a program on the rise.
It’s time to take the next step, coach Al Groh says.
“We’ve been a pretty good team,” Groh said. “But you’re supposed to be good. You’re not supposed to be bad. So what we’ve done is gotten where we’re supposed to be. Now what we have to do is try to become a great team.”
Virginia, No. 16 in the AP preseason poll, appears to have the pieces in place to make a run at the top of the new and improved ACC, which might qualify as greatness. Most of last year’s team is back, with the notable exception of quarterback Matt Schaub.
DON’T MISS ... Virginia at Florida State, Oct. 16. The Cavs could be 5-0 heading into this game against an FSU team that’s picked to win the ACC. Virginia has never won in Tallahassee, and Florida State is loaded once again.
IMPACT PLAYER: Heath Miller is a preseason All-American. The junior, nicknamed “Big Money” is a big target with great hands who led all tight ends nationally with 70 receptions last year. He might be the nation’s best at his position.
KEEP AN EYE ON . . .
Elton Brown, at 6-foot-6 and more than 330 pounds, is just plain big. He’s also a preseason All-American and was awarded the Jacobs Trophy as the ACC’s top blocker last year. He’s the senior leader of an experienced offensive line that is being counted on to live up to its potential this year.
Connor Hughes made 23 of 25 field-goal tries, including three from 50 yards or more last year as a sophomore. He is a candidate for the Lou Groza award, given to the nation’s top placekicker. uE06E The LB duo of Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham showed great promise as freshmen and could be ready for breakout years. They play side by side in Virginia’s 3-4 defensive alignment.
Chris Canty leads an experienced defensive line. Canty, a 6-7, 290-pound senior, has led ACC defensive linemen in tackles the past two years and is striving to become a better pass rusher.
WATCH OUT IF . . . QB Marques Hagans struggles early. Virginia’s “West Coast” style offense depends on precision timing. Hagans is not the drop-back passer that two-year starter Matt Schaub was. If Hagans falters, Virginia will likely turn to Notre Dame transfer Chris Olsen, who has never played in a college game. Breaking in a new quarterback in midseason isn’t what a team with ACC title hopes wants to deal with.
Stepping in for Schaub is junior Marques Hagans, a dynamic runner with a strong arm. His favorite target could be tight end Heath Miller, a preseason All-American .
An improved running game would take pressure off Hagans, and with the entire offensive line returning, along with tailbacks Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman, improvement seems likely.
The defense returns eight starters, with the key losses coming in the secondary. Still, it’s the fastest and most physically rugged bunch U.Va. has had since Groh arrived.
Physical toughness is a theme for the season. Virginia has beaten its share of teams the past two years, but it hasn’t beaten many of them up. With added bulk and maturity along both lines, Groh is hoping that will change.
Another theme is for the Cavs to finish what they start. Last season, Virginia was cruising along at 4-1 when it dropped four of five. In two of those losses, to Clemson and N.C. State, the Cavaliers let the game slip away late.
“We’ve got to maintain the same level throughout the season,” guard Elton Brown said. “And just finish games.”
Good news for U.Va. offense: These guys are healthy
Out of the lineup last season with health issues, fullback Jason Snelling and wide receiver Michael McGrew look to boost the Cavs' passing game.
BY DAVE JOHNSON
Published August 25, 2004
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Two years ago, they caught 58 passes and scored six touchdowns between them. Fullback Jason Snelling and wideout Michael McGrew were two of Matt Schaub's targets, and an important part of the University of Virginia's offense.
One year ago, they never got off the sideline. McGrew broke his leg in preseason, and Snelling battled an illness that neither he nor his coach will disclose.
Now, Snelling and McGrew are back - and their timing couldn't be better. Marques Hagans, a junior who has more punt returns than attempted passes, is taking over for Schaub. And the more options he has in the passing game, the better.
"Having them brings more weapons to the table," Hagans said. "We've got a lot of guys now who can make plays."
Snelling developed that knack as a freshman, when as a 218-pound fullback he finished as the Cavaliers' fourth-leading receiver. His 31 receptions, 18 of which came in a three-game span late in the season, were the fifth-most ever by a U.Va. running back. He was a big guy who could run and catch - every offensive coordinator's dream.
But before the Cavaliers' trip to the Continental Tire Bowl in December 2002, Snelling developed an illness and was unable to play. Recovery was slower than expected, and Snelling didn't play the 2003 season. Once cleared by doctors, he began practicing with the team in October.
Virginia coach Al Groh never considered playing him. Instead, he wanted Snelling to use his redshirt year and benefit from it. Physically, at least, he did. Snelling now carries 245 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame, making him ideal size for a fullback.
"The pounding at fullback, you've got to be able to take that," he said. "The weight does help in blocking the linebackers and linemen."
But will it hamper some of those "tailback skills" Groh says Snelling brings to the offense?
"He's 20, 25 pounds heavier, so for the size and strength that he brings there may be something given in return," Groh said. "But I'd say by and large, he's operating the same way. He's certainly able to do all the same things. There are some circumstances where he's able to do them with more power.
"He really provides us something different at that position. He's kind of a unique player at that spot. It's not an aspersion on anybody else who's played there, but he can do things that your average fullback can't."
After a year off, Snelling is also eager.
"It feels good just to be out there again," he said. "I had been away from football for a while, and taking a year off last year was hard for me. But I did the things I needed to do to become a better fullback and better off the field, so it worked out for the best."
McGrew hopes that'll be the case for him. He was the Cavaliers' top returning receiver going into last season, but during the first week of practice - Aug. 13, 2003, to be exact - McGrew went down during passing drills with a broken fibula in his left leg.
Already thin at the position, Groh took the unconventional step of moving Hagans, his backup quarterback, to wide receiver. And McGrew went through the process of healing - and rehabilitation.
"I knew it was pretty serious," McGrew said. "I looked at it and I was hoping it was only dislocated, but I knew. I knew I was out for the season. It made me realize that you can get hurt. When you see season-ending injuries, you say, 'Dang, that's messed up!' But then it goes out your head and you don't think about it - until it happens to you.
"Rehab was pretty bad, I can't lie, and I was impatient. It wasn't one of those things where you wake up after a week and say, 'I feel better.' It was like a month-by-month thing. If you took it day-by-day, you'd never feel like you're getting better. But like in April, I did feel better than I did in February. Or it's June, and I feel better than I did in the spring."
Now it's August, and McGrew says he is "stronger and faster in every category." Groh didn't go that far, but acknowledged that McGrew looks as good as before.
"The last three months seem to have made a big difference," he said. "Now, when you watch Michael perform, you wouldn't suspect that he was injured last year."
CATCHING UP WITH . . . Yuri Barnes
Richmond Times-Dispatch Aug 26, 2004
Age: 31 (born Dec. 9, 1972, in Washington, D.C.)
Resides: Fulton Hill in Richmond's East End
Marital status: Single
Then: Barnes moved to Chesterfield County from North Carolina before his 10th-grade year and became a two-time All-Metro basketball player at Manchester High, then located on Hull Street Road. He was an imposing presence at 6-8, 225 pounds, with tremendous athletic ability. As a junior, he led the Lancers to their first state-tournament appearance in 23 years. As a senior, he was considered one of the nation's top 50 prospects and averaged 21.8 points, 12.7 boards and 5.4 blocks. Graduated from Manchester in 1991.
Now: Barnes is an insurance agent with New York Life, working with businesses and families. He's been in the insurance industry since 1999. He no longer plays basketball competitively but works with young players at the Tuckahoe YMCA.
College days: Barnes entered the University of Virginia in 1991 as part of a touted class that included Jason Williford (John Marshall High), Cory Alexander and Junior Burrough, friends with whom he's still close. Barnes played four seasons for coach Jeff Jones. He started 27 games as a junior but otherwise mostly came off the bench. Career averages: 5.1 points, 4.2 rebounds. As a senior, Barnes helped U.Va. advance to the NCAA tournament's fourth round. "It was a great experience," Barnes said of playing in the ACC. "I can still turn on the TV now, any NBA game, and see guys I played with or against." He graduated from Virginia in'95 with a bachelor's degree in psychology.
Post-graduate work: Barnes played three seasons of pro ball, in the Netherlands, Israel and Spain. "Kind of being stuck at playing center at U.Va. probably didn't help me develop," he said. "It was once I got overseas that I did start to develop, going from a role player to maybe 20 shots a game and having to be the guy. That was probably the most fun I had playing."
Life after hoops? Barnes looks back fondly on his basketball career. Still, he didn't have trouble moving on. "I'd been competing since I was 8, 9 years old, and there were just so many other things I wanted to do," Barnes recalled. "I foresaw my career being overseas for a long period of time, which was good, but after three, four years, the novelty of just being over there kind of wore off. I just felt like I was missing out on too much. I felt like I was a smart guy, and I had my degree. Basketball had never made me, and I wanted to pursue my business career in the States."
No regrets: During his days at Manchester, Barnes said, "you couldn't tell me that basketball wasn't going to be my life, that I wasn't going to be in the NBA. That was pretty much a done deal. But things change, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't disappoint me. But it's a gradual process. You work from disappointment to light at the end of the tunnel to [contentment]. I wouldn't change anything."
Five years from now? "Hopefully, I'll be happily married, with a family, and be a top producer at New York Life. I would like to still be helping [young basketball players] out in some form, maybe some AAU programs," Barnes said. - Jeff White
Ex-Bird star set to earn his wings
It's Snelling's time to take a leading role in U.Va.'s backfield
BY JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Aug 25, 2004
CHARLOTTESVILLE At L.C. Bird High School, where he was an All-Metro tailback, Jason Snelling had series in which he carried the ball nine times.
At the University of Virginia, where he plays fullback, Snelling appeared in 12 games as a true freshman in 2002. He was used extensively as a receiver, catching 31 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns. But he carried the ball only nine times all season, for 38 yards, and never more than twice in a game.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.
That's not a lot of carries by any measure, and U.Va. coach Al Groh knows it. Snelling's role will expand this season.
"I think probably by the time he gets on the plane to come home from the first game he might have that many," said Groh, whose team opens Sept. 4 at Temple.
After rushing for 4,153 yards (on 544 carries) during his brilliant career at Bird, Snelling joined a Virginia program that had a veteran, Kase Luzar, at fullback. Luzar, a converted tight end, was a punishing blocker but not an accomplished ball-carrier. Snelling, meanwhile, was something of an unknown, a promising athlete learning a new position.
"At that time, because he was a young player, a developing player and a spot player, the position really couldn't be built for him," Groh said. "He kind of had to take how the position had been built in spring practice and training camp, before we knew what his readiness would be."
By season's end, the Cavaliers knew all about Snelling's myriad skills, and his coaches planned to feature him in 2003. But Snelling sat out last season to address a medical condition that dated to his senior year at Bird and forced him to miss two games in 2002, including the Continental Tire Bowl.
"I've been playing football all my life, so taking a year off was kind of hard for me," Snelling said last week. "So I'm really excited and ready to get back out there."
The 5-11, 245-pound redshirt sophomore prefers not to discuss his condition, other than to say his neurologist has brought it under control with medication. Snelling took part in spring practice this year and has impressed during training camp.
"I think as time goes on," Groh said, "he's got a chance to establish himself as one of the very best players on this team."
With Snelling on the sidelines, fullbacks fell back into the shadows at U.Va. last season. Neither Luzar nor Brandon Isaiah carried the ball. Between them, they caught 17 passes for 106 yards and one TD.
Now, with Snelling back and "clearly the lead guy going in," Groh said, "we were able to set things up to utilize his skills."
Snelling said: "We've been working on certain things in the offseason to make sure I hone my skills as a fullback, but [Groh] knows my talent, so I'm going to be able to run the ball too."
He runs, he blocks, he catches. He's one of the Cavaliers' top special-teams performers. Snelling may not have been one of U.Va.'s more heralded recruits in 2002 - his classmates include Darryl Blackstock, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Wali Lundy and Kai Parham - but it's difficult to overstate his value to the team.
"Jason gives us a versatility and, really, a firepower that I think is pretty unique to the position," Groh said.
Cavaliers excited to meet expectations
By Ken Bosserman
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- One look at the cover of Virginia's football media guide for 2004 gives you the impression the Cavaliers are for real.
Six players are pictured, and all are listed as candidates for national prominence -- offensive guard Elton Brown for the Outland Trophy, tight end Heath Miller for the Mackey Award, defensive end Chris Canty for the Lombardi Award, place-kicker Connor Hughes for the Groza Award, and linebackers Darryl Blackstock and Ahmad Brooks for the Butkus Award.
If all succeed and win those recognitions, Virginia football may well be on its way to national prominence.
Realistically, the Cavaliers may find it a challenge to improve on last year's 8-5 record. They are ranked by sportswriters as No. 3 in the ACC behind Florida State and Miami, while the preseason Associated Press poll has them ranked 16th in the nation.
The Seminoles and Hurricanes as well as nationally ranked Maryland are on their schedule this year. And with the revamped ACC, the Cavaliers' tangle with arch-rival Virginia Tech is now a conference game. Temple, North Carolina, Akron, Syracuse, Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech round out the schedule.
But optimism abounds in Wahooland.
"There's a lot of fanfare around," Canty said. "It seems like the whole town and state is behind Virginia football this year. The team understands the schematic that the coaches have put together for success."
"Everyone is looking forward to the challenge," said Wali Lundy, who led the Cavaliers in rushing last season.
Blackstock, who is best known for harassing opposing quarterbacks from his linebacker position, is ready for the challenge.
"We are trying to keep everything simple and come together as a unit," he said. "We are getting better and better every day. For us, being physical is a mentality. We will do what it takes to be a physical team. We will play every game as hard as we can. The only difference from last year is that we are better. The defense is faster, and we swarm."
Brown looks for a lot of fan support to key the Cavaliers and is especially eager to play Virginia Tech because it is now a member of the ACC.
"We are trying to get our chemistry right at all positions, and we are getting there," he said.
The quarterback responsibility will probably fall on the shoulders of Marques Hagans. Matt Schaub has graduated and is a member of the Atlanta Falcons. How Hagans does may well dictate what kind of season the Cavaliers have.
"The main thing is I don't have to put it all on my shoulders," he said. "We have a lot of talent at running back, and players who can make plays. We will have to play within the system, and big plays will come within the system. We expect a lot out of ourselves. You always want to compete against the best, and I'm looking forward to it."
Miller led the nation's tight ends with 70 receptions for 835 yards last season. He is a preseason All-American.
"I just try to keep focused on the football," he said. "We are working hard to come together as a unit, and I think it will play dividends when the season comes."
Hughes was one of the best kickers in the nation last year. He made 23 of 25 field goals to rank second nationally and first among returning kickers this year. Three of those kicks were 50 yards or longer. He also was perfect in extra points, hitting all 40 attempts.
"I can do it again. I don't see why not," the junior said. "If you don't like challenges, you are not in the right business.
"Being an optimist, every time I go on the field I feel I can make a field goal. I try to stay in the same mind-set. "
Hughes' longest was 53 yards last year. He thinks he can hit from longer distances this season.
"Each week, it's about beating the other team," said Hughes, who was originally a recruited walk-on. "I will try to do that the best I can."