Read it and weep? Not for these fans
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Illiteracy has gotten out of control in this state. Young. Old. Male. Female. Rich. Poor. This problem affects everybody.
Never was that more apparent than the afternoon of Aug. 17. That day, at Scott Stadium on the campus of the University of Virginia — this supposed mecca of public education — hundreds of fans gathered to meet the Cavaliers football team.
And get this: many of those people were upbeat!
Now we know for sure they can’t read. If they could, they would have stayed away. Because as every newspaper and magazine has been screaming for months, the UVa football team is going to stink this year. Even coach Al Groh’s quotes in the team’s media guide warn of it. “A significant rebuilding job,” he calls this season on page 22.
Then, in case you missed that, he says the exact same thing again seven paragraphs later. (Of course, repetition doesn’t help if you can’t read in the first place).
But you know what? Looking at all those illiterates on that bright, sunny day, laughing, shaking hands and offering best wishes to the players, it gets you thinking.
Maybe they’re on to something.
The preseason is no time for pessimism. Can’t we wait at least until the first loss — which could come in the opener at Pittsburgh — before shoveling dirt? If things go as so many say it will, if the offense plods along, listless and lineman-less, and the defense wilts with inexperience, there will be plenty of time to complain about it then.
But not now. Now is a time for hype and hope. UVa, which received no votes in the Associated Press preseason poll, falls under the “hope” category. In that spirit, here are three reasons for Cavs fans to have hope for 2006:
1. The players are just as fed up with the bashing as you are, and they’re itching to prove people wrong.
The infamous, seemingly unprovoked rant by ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd this summer was the biggie. Nobody likes to be called soft, least of all a 6-foot-2, 334-pound nose tackle who takes on multiple blockers on every snap.
“I could show him soft,” said Keenan Carter, the 6-2, 334-pound nose tackle who takes on multiple blockers on every snap. “That was messed up, man. Messed up.”
Linebacker Clint Sintim said he heard the clip one night right before he was heading to bed and “ended up not going to sleep until about an hour and a half later.”
Can this needling actually be a benefit? Sure, why not?
“It definitely rallies us together,” defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald said. “Every time you get tired in practice, you think about something that might have been said or written about you. It motivates you to push on.”
2. The ’Hoos have a 750-pound tight end.
OK, so it’s actually three people. But all three are pretty darn good, and they add up to a pretty formidable weapon. Included in this mix is Bath County grad John Phillips, who, after a year and a half in the UVa weight program, looks a little bit like a cyclopean elk.
3. The defense will be better than people think.
The Cavs’ offense isn’t going to fly up and down the field like it did in the Music City Bowl, but it might not need to. Defensive end Chris Long is ready to break out and become an ACC star. Carter is a fearsome load at nose tackle, and he might not even win the starting job. The secondary should be one of the team’s greatest strengths.
“It could be very good,” Long said of the defense. “It could also be mediocre. It’s all about how hard we play. If we’re sound in our techniques and our assignments and ... everybody flies to the ball, I think that’s the mark of a good defense.
“You don’t need superstar athletes to do that. You need 11 guys that are committed.”
And you need one more thing, too, something UVa is guaranteed to have: 60,000 illiterates behind you, waiting to explode.
Mike Groh has worked his way up in the football coaching field under the tutelage of his father, Al.
There are few topics that can sour Bobby Bowden's perpetual good humor more quickly than criticism of his offensive coordinator.
It so happens that Bowden's offensive coordinator at his Florida State is one of his sons, Jeff, and the old man has some advice for Virginia as it undertakes a similar arrangement.
Mike Groh, promoted to offensive coordinator during the offseason, is the son of UVa head coach Al Groh.
"He's [Al Groh] going to get the same thing I get," Bowden said. "The first time something goes wrong, it's going to be his fault for hiring him.
"Then, if you want to defend him, everybody just thinks you're taking up for your boy."
Al Groh doesn't have to defend his decision to Bowden. In 1995, Mike Groh was the Virginia quarterback when the Cavaliers handed second-ranked Florida State its first ACC loss, 33-28. Last year, Groh was the quarterbacks coach when Virginia QB Marques Hagans led UVa past then-No. 4 Florida State, 26-21.
"His son is fully qualified," Bowden said.
That doesn't mean the message boards will be buzzing whenever the UVa offense sputters.
"We all know that, if Michael wasn't the coordinator, the first time something went wrong offensively, people would say he should have been," Al Groh said in July at the ACC Football Kickoff in Jacksonville.
"That's coming from 62,000 people who didn't put 100 hours into deciding what we should do. Whether you're the quarterback coach, the offensive-line coach, the head coach or the special-teams coach, when you get into this business, you know that it's basically a business of being second-guessed.
"If you're listening to that, you're probably listening to the wrong people."
Groh hired four new assistants during the offseason. None created as much of a stir as the promotion of his son.
What's funny is, if Mike Groh had any other last name, who would have complained? He was a former UVa player, a star of sorts, who had spent a year as an offensive assistant under his father with the New York Jets in 2000.
The younger Groh subsequently spent two years as the UVa receivers coach, took over the quarterbacks in 2003 and became the recruiting coordinator in 2004. In many respects, he was an obvious choice.
"To be quite honest, I have paid absolutely no attention to any of that," Mike Groh, 34, said. "I didn't pay much mind to anything besides my job when I was playing or receivers coach or quarterbacks coach."
Groh said he does not know the younger Bowden and wouldn't be inclined to pick his brain, seeing as the teams are scheduled to play Nov. 4.
"From Day 1, I've tried to approach it as, 'He's the boss,' " Groh said. "He's not my dad. He's the head coach. I'm just like everybody else in that hallway. It's an equal-opportunity ass-chewing, and, trust me, I get mine chewed as much as anybody else.
"At times, it's hard to separate the two. You don't have to be in this profession to have a father-son combination, whether or not they always enjoy working together. I don't think it's unique for football coaches."
Virginia has never said who it was who called plays in its 34-31 Music City Bowl victory over Minnesota, but it appears there was considerable collaboration between Mike Groh, who was on the sidelines, and receivers coach John Garrett, who was in the press box.
Offensive coordinator Ron Prince was at the game but had resigned earlier in the month to become head coach at Kansas State.
Mike Groh had been in the press box earlier in his career, "and I would tell you, when you're not on the field, you don't feel as connected," he said.
But, in the press box, a play-caller isn't as easily distracted.
At 29, Groh was the youngest member of a 2001 UVa staff that included Corwin Brown, 30; Prince, 31; Al Golden, 32, and Bill Musgrave, 33. Five years later, he's still the third-youngest member of the staff, ahead of Anthony Poindexter and Bobby Diaco.
Al Groh seemingly took a different approach with his rebuilt staff, adding a pair of veterans in secondary coach Steve Bernstein, 62, and offensive-line coach Dave Borbely, 47.
"I think the staff has the same ambition, the same competitiveness, the same energy level," Groh said. "They've just got different numbers next to their names. It wasn't a decision to change the make-up of the staff.
"For example, now that we're five years into a particular style, there's a certain way we want to run the ball, there are certain protections that we use. And there are certain very good coaches out there who don't have as much background in those systems."
That was the closest Groh has come to explaining his decision not to hire James Madison assistant Curt Newsome, who subsequently was named offensive-line coach at Virginia Tech.
When questions about his son persisted at Virginia's football media day, Al Groh returned to one of his stock stories.
"There was one point in my career where a coaching friend of mine who has proven he knows what's going on [Bill Parcells] came in and said to me, 'Do you really care what people think?'" Groh said. "This is probably revealing more of myself than I like to, but I said, 'At this point, other than on issues of morality and ethics, probably not.'
"He said, 'Good, then. You have a chance. Everybody's going to have an opinion on what you should do -- the players, the assistant coaches, the administration or ownership, the coaches' wives, the fans. If you start making decisions based on what everybody else thinks, you're making decisions for the wrong reasons.'
"Then, he said, 'Just coach the team the way you think the team needs to be coached every day.' It isn't an arrogant statement. It just means, take in all the input that you might need, but in the end, just coach the team the way it needs to be coached. That's what we did in this particular circumstance."
Olsen takes center stage
Christian Olsen was an understudy at quarterback for both Notre Dame and UVa.
By Doug Doughty
CHARLOTTESVILLE — By the time Christian Olsen left Notre Dame on the eve of the 2003 season, he had come to the conclusion that he wasn’t the Irish’s “quarterback of the future.”
For college kids, four years isn’t the future. It’s an eternity.
Olsen would have been delighted to take over the Virginia job as soon as he became eligible, but fate and Marques Hagans intervened and here he is, in 2006, finally getting his big chance.
This will be his only opportunity to leave his mark as a college player.
Olsen has a lot to prove, if that’s the way he chooses to look at it.
“That’s one of the things Coach [Al] Groh and I have talked about,” said Olsen, who turned 23 in April. “I’m not going out there and trying to make up for three years of not playing. I’m just going out there game by game and trying to get as many wins as we can.”
Olsen has been saying all the right things, but is it an act? After all, Olsen’s degree is in drama.
“Let’s hope he’s a drama major and not a drama queen,” Groh said.
Groh was on his way to Jacksonville, Fla., for the ACC Football Kickoff when he was struck by an article on golfer Tiger Woods’ victory in the British Open.
“With the father’s illness, he knew that the Masters would be the last major that his father would ever watch,” Groh said. “He tried too hard to win it. In this particular case, he felt a sense of calmness throughout the entire British Open.
“That’s really the essence of how to compete. It doesn’t mean a guy is laid back, OK? That means a guy is very intense about competition, but he’s also got a sense of calmness about him. Those are the guys who perform the best.”
The word on Olsen is that he’s a little bit hyper.
“Maybe that’s why we had the conversation,” Groh said.
Olsen visited Virginia in the summer before his senior year in high school, when he was thought to be leaning to Miami. Most people thought that’s where he was going before he committed to Notre Dame and then-coach Bob Davie.
“I kind of got wrapped up in the Notre Dame, Touchdown Jesus and all that,” said Olsen, whose family is not Catholic. “I liked Virginia a lot. Part of it was, I didn’t have as good a feel for the situation because Coach Groh had just come in.”
Olsen was redshirted as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2002 and in April was named most valuable offensive player in the Irish’s spring game. He knew he would be playing behind Carlyle Holiday, but new coach Tyrone Willingham had recruited Brady Quinn and would not commit to Olsen as the No. 2 QB.
“Obviously, now looking back it was a good move [to transfer] or else I never would have played,” Olsen said. “Brady’s the best quarterback in college football. But, it was more than that. The school atmosphere wasn’t for me; it wasn’t a football thing.”
Apparently, it wasn’t the Notre Dame players either. Earlier this summer, former Notre Dame tight end Anthony Fasano called Olsen and invited him to watch Irish defensive back Tom Zbikowski in a boxing match at Madison Square Garden.
“All those receivers that I came in with, all those guys that I played with, there had to be 65 Notre Dame guys there and me,” Olsen said. “It was a little bit awkward at first because I never really told anybody I was leaving. I hadn’t talked to Brady for about a year and a half, but I got to hang out with him all night.”
Virginia does not get many Division I-A transfers, but Olsen fit in from the start.
“He’s got a very good likability with the team, so the players started out very positive toward him,” Groh said. “Throughout the spring, as they could see his performance, they could anticipate a certain level of dependability, too. They were rooting for him to do well.”
Players voted Olsen as one of the co-captains on the final day of spring practice, “which, on the first day of [spring] practice, he likely would not have been,” Groh said.
When roommates uncovered modeling photos of Olsen that were taken on a trip to New York City, they were delivered to Groh, who, unannounced, flashed them on the screen at a team meeting.
“It was Bart,” said Olsen, referring to his fun-loving former roommate Brian Barthelmes. “Who else but Bart would have gone on my computer like this. It wasn’t anything I was serious about. I wouldn’t say I’m the last person who would do something like that, but I’m not the first, either.”
Remember, the guy is a drama major.
“There were a lot of majors I could have taken, but I just felt that acting was something I wanted to know more about,” he said. “We have to do monologues in front of maybe 30 kids who are going to critique you on everything you do. It’s really nerve-wracking because you’re out there by yourself.”
In football, he’ll be surrounded by 10 teammates, but, in front of crowds of 60,000 or so, that can be nerve-wracking, too.
“He sees the same situation we see,” Groh said. “This team has had four years of quarterback-driven play [with] two of the better quarterbacks who have ever played at Virginia. Now, he’s supposed to go in there and he’s never played before.
“He’s got to move on from being the understudy and knowing the lines but not having to recite them,” Groh said. “Now, he’s got to get on the stage and be 'the guy,’ I can’t tell you how it’s going to go. All I can say is, to this point, he’s done all the right things.”
Other 1-year starters left winners
UVa has debuted full-time starters who were fifth-year seniors four other times since the 1987 season.
By Doug Doughty
When Virginia named Tim Sherman as the sideline reporter for its football radio telecasts, little did the Cavaliers realize the connection Sherman has to UVa quarterback Christian Olsen.
Olsen, who has thrown 23 passes in his college career, will make his starting debut Saturday against Pittsburgh.
That day Olsen will become the fifth UVa quarterback since 1987 to become a full-time starter for the first time in his fifth year. The last was Sherman, who took over the reins in 1996 after attempting 24 passes in his first four seasons.
“Coach [George] Welsh had it set up that way,” Sherman said. “That was his general mode of operation. It was very rare that anybody would come in and be the starting quarterback before he’d been in the program for two or three years.”
Previous Virginia quarterbacks who had gotten a chance in their fifth year were Scott Secules in 1987, Matt Blundin in 1991 and Bobby Goodman in 1992.
All three led the ACC in passing. Secules and Blundin were first-team All-ACC selections, and Blundin was the ACC player of the year.
Current UVa coach Al Groh would be happy to know that Virginia posted winning records with all four of Olsen’s predecessors, but the Cavaliers were winners no matter who the QB was, winning seven or more games in 13 straight seasons from 1987-1999.
Experience doesn’t hurt. Witness 2002 ACC player of the year Matt Schaub, who was miserable in his starting debut against Wisconsin in 2001. Schaub knew that he had nearly three years remaining to refine his game, which he did.
“He’s [Olsen] got 12 games to accomplish what he’s been waiting for all his whole life, basically,” Sherman said. “There’s a lot of pressure. You can try all you want in scrimmages or practice [to simulate game conditions]. Yeah, it could be live. It could be full speed. But, it’s not the same. There’s going to be rust.
“The biggest concern I have — and I would tell him this — is that people are so used to [2004-05 starter] Marques Hagans. If the protection broke down, Marques could make people miss and still come up with a big play. That’s not Christian’s forte. Are people going to get on him? Probably. I expect this to be more of the true West Coast offense [with] short passes and dumps to the tight end and backs.”
Sherman’s first game as a starter was at home against Central Michigan, a 55-21 UVa victim.
“I’m a little afraid of the Pitt game,” Sherman said of Olsen’s baptismal. “We had a little more of a comfort level than they do. Pitt’s on the upswing. I went into that [opener] with a lot more weapons offensively and defensively than they have this year.”
Sherman was surrounded by many of the key components of the 1995 team that handed Florida State its first ACC loss, including future Pro Bowlers Tiki and Ronde Barber.
“I had some butterflies,” Sherman said. “Getting out there in front of 50,000 was different from the spring game atmosphere.”
Sherman, the son of former UVa assistant Tom Sherman, had played at Albemarle High School but was relatively unheralded before signing with the Cavaliers. Olsen, on the other hand, was a SuperPrep All-American.
“Obviously, coming out of high school and going to Notre Dame, he was a highly sought-after recruit,” Sherman said. “He’s got the talent. Now’s the time to get out there and do what he’s been waiting to do.”
Who will take a shining to the spotlight?
After losing several key players in the offseason -- both to the NFL and suspensions -- Virginia must uncover new stars at the 2006 season begins.
By Doug Doughty
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Since the end of the 2005 football season, Virginia has lost four assistant coaches, eight signees and former Playboy All-American Ahmad Brooks from its prospective 2006 arsenal.
Music City Bowl practices were conducted with a skeleton staff and Brooks didn’t make the trip, but that didn’t prevent the Cavaliers from beating Minnesota 34-31.
Unfortunately, Virginia has sustained some other losses since its trip to Nashville, Tenn., most notably the departure of first-round NFL Draft pick D’Brickashaw Ferguson, UVa career scoring leader Connor Hughes, all-time ACC touchdown leader Wali Lundy, leading tackler Kai Parham and playmaking quarterback Marques Hagans.
“Who amongst the media or the fans knew much about Connor Hughes when he came in?” Groh asked reporters at the ACC Football Kickoff in Jacksonville, Fla. “Who knew about D’Brickashaw Ferguson? Who knew too much about Wali Lundy? Who knew anything about Brennan Schmidt?”
Schmidt, a two-year co-captain, set a UVa record and tied an ACC mark by starting 51 consecutive games in his career as a Cavaliers defensive lineman.
“There are some other players now who nobody knows about,” Groh said, “but they have the potential to be good players. They’re going to have to step up and do that, just as Brennan certainly carved out a tremendous career for himself. Or Connor. Or Wali.”
Virginia needed a victory over Minnesota to finish 7-5 and post its fourth straight winning season. Six UVa players were drafted by NFL teams, including Brooks, who was dismissed by Groh in March and subsequently made himself available for the NFL’s supplemental draft.
Brooks was one of four players left off the spring roster for what Groh characterized as an absence of focus and dedication. One of those players, safety and 2005 co-captain Tony Franklin, was reinstated on the eve of preseason practice.
The return of Franklin and Nate Lyles, who missed the final three games of the 2005 season following neck surgery, has only fortified what was already the deepest unit on the team. Cornerback Marcus Hamilton was a second-team All-ACC choice last season, when he had an ACC-leading six interceptions, including a game-saver against Minnesota.
Defensively, Hamilton will share the marquee with 6-foot-4, 284-pound defensive end Chris Long, whose performance last year started to match up with his bloodline. Long, oldest son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, had 26 quarterback hurries as a sophomore and finished with 10 tackles for loss.
“One of the most valuable commodities Chris brings is tremendous passion for football, and that helps infuse everybody around him with that,” Groh said. “He’s a very high-energy, high-motor player, and he’s able to maintain that all afternoon long. We don’t see many circumstances when Chris Long looks like he’s tired.”
The Cavaliers will rely heavily on young players like inside linebacker Antonio Appleby, who was a true freshman when he replaced Brooks for the final two games, and his fellow 2005 signee, Jeffrey Fitzgerald, a 6-3, 279-pound redshirt freshman who will play at the end spot opposite Long’s.
Long and Hamilton are two of the three players on the cover of Virginia’s football media guide. The third is senior Deyon Williams, who had a team-high 58 receptions in 2005 but will miss the season opener as the result of a broken foot that required surgery Aug. 11. Williams has said that he hopes to return in time for the Cavaliers’ Thursday night game at Georgia Tech on Sept. 21.
In Williams’ absence, the team’s top returning receiver will be Fontel Mines (28 receptions in 2005). The top returning rusher is Jason Snelling, now a full-time tailback after dividing his time between fullback and tailback last year, when he rushed for 331 yards.
Gone are three offensive linemen — Ferguson, Brad Butler and Brian Barthelmes — with more than a combined 120 career starts. But the Cavaliers have a pair of sophomore offensive linemen, Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe, who would be the envy of any line coach.
UVa has had some talented tight ends in the past, most notably John Mackey Award winner Heath Miller, but the current threesome of Jon Stupar, Tom Santi and Bath County’s John Phillips would be hard to beat.
A possible area of concern is the kicking game, where Chris Gould, brother of Chicago Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould, will take over field goals and extra points from Hughes and kickoff duties from San Diego Chargers draft pick Kurt Smith. Gould was UVa’s punter last season and for part of the 2005 season, but Groh hopes that Ryan Weigand can take over those duties.
The schedule will not provide much opportunity for on-the-job training. In their season opener, the Cavaliers will visit Pittsburgh, an early five-point favorite.
“It’s the Tony Dorsett national championship team celebration,” Groh said. “The Steelers don’t start till the next week. It’s going to be center stage in Pittsburgh, a big dog-and-pony show. All of that is going to make it very challenging for this team.
“They’re going to have to stand up to some pretty good pitching early. That’s the formula that helped the previous players. In 2002, those other players had to face Colorado State, Florida State and South Carolina. There was no sticking their toe in the water. They had to dive right into the pool.”
Groh, Cavs looking for big returns
By Jerry Ratcliffe / Daily Progress sports editor
August 27, 2006
One of the quickest ways to turn a football game around is by returning a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown.
Not only does it swing momentum and add quick points to the scoreboard, but it can demoralize an opponent in a matter of seconds.
Virginia believes that both kickoff and punt returns could be a strength for it this season with experienced return men in both spots.
Former UVa coach George Welsh used to call it “hidden yardage,” the amount of yards teams could accumulate over the course of a game by returning kicks, which not only influences the scoreboard at times, but more importantly field position, which is really what football is all about.
Coach Al Groh and special teams coordinator Bob Diaco return one of the ACC’s most potent kickoff return squads and three experienced return men: Cedric Peerman, Michael Johnson and Tony Franklin.
The Cavaliers finished third in the ACC and 24th nationally in kickoff returns last season with an average return of 22.3 yards. In all, UVa had 961 yards of kickoff return yardage, and Peerman was UVa’s best as only a redshirt freshman.
Peerman finished second in the ACC and 22nd nationally (sixth nationally among freshmen) in kickoff returns with an average of 25.8 over 21 returns. In fact, after he returned two kickoffs for 35 and 36 yards against Western Michigan, the Broncos pooched their next two kickoffs to upbacks in order to keep it away from the Wahoo rookie.
He also returned five kicks for 129 yards (25.8) in UVa’s upset of Florida State.
“Just like our running plays, we run [the kickoff return package] again, and again, and again, so they all get a sense of how to be in sync together,” said Groh of Peerman and the other return team roster. “That enables [Peerman or whoever] to get a good feel for it and how to read certain guys’ blocks.
“He’s seen it enough times to know what they’re trying to do with their man, whether they’re pushing them in, pushing them out, and the approach some of the opponents may have. So, it’s a pretty well-coordinated operation.”
Add Peerman’s toughness, Johnson’s speed, and Franklin’s experience, and Groh has a lot to rely on. Johnson finished ninth in the ACC and 77th nationally in returns last season and had UVa’s longest return, a 68-yarder against Duke.
“With Franklin and Johnson, they also have quite a bit of background in returns,” Groh said. “We have three guys who have a lot of experience back there.”
Punt returns was a different proposition last year when UVa finished in the middle of the pack of the ACC and 87th nationally in that category. But with Emmanuel Byers back, that phase of UVa’s return game could improve.
Miami has shown how much a good return game can impact a season, or a stretch of seasons. Since 1999, the Hurricanes have returned 56 kicks for touchdowns, more than any other team in the country. Of the eight punt returns for touchdowns by ACC teams last season, six of those were by Florida State (4) and Miami (2). The Canes returned seven punts for scores in 2004.
Anyone who follows Groh’s philosophy on football knows that he puts more emphasis on the catching of punts than the actual return.
The return is bonus.
“We start with the best punt catcher and that has been Byers,” Groh said this past week. “If we have stopped the other team and we’re getting the ball, we don’t want to be in the business of giving the ball right back (via a botched return). The priority is the best punt catcher. If we can combine that with a high return, then we’re happy.”
Byers returned only eight punts last season for a 10.1 average, but with a season under his belt, Groh is confident that the junior’s best days in that department lie ahead.
Cavs good as Gould
Virginia junior ready to take on role of kicker
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 27, 2006
For many youngsters, summer vacation translates into countless trips to the swimming pool or fun-filled afternoons at camps.
Chris Gould has them all beat. This summer, Virginia’s heir ap-parent at placekicker hung out in Chicago with the Tasmanian Devil.
Huh? Gould’s older brother, Robbie, is known as “Taz,” a nick-name that has nothing to do with kicking, something he specializes in for the Chicago Bears.
Robbie Gould got the nickname from his grandfather, the late Robert Ruhl.
“He gave every grandkid a nickname,” Chris Gould said, pointing out that his sister was called “Barbie.”
Ruhl, who lost a battle to cancer when Gould was 4, found the perfect nickname for Virginia’s third-year kicker.
“I would always climb up on his lap,” Gould said, “and he would tap me on the nose and say ‘Beep,’ and I would laugh at him.”
Beep still gets in his share of laughs, that’s just his personality.
But stressful situations are looming as he tries to replace two households names - kickoff spe-cialist Kurt Smith and placekicker Connor Hughes. That chore alone could force many to self-destruct.
“I am very excited to get the chance to replace Kurt and Con-nor,” Gould said, “but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of pressure to come in and replace two kicking legends.”
Hughes holds the school record with 332 points thanks in part to 66 field goals, also a program record. Smith, the only kicker selected in the NFL Draft, re-corded a league-best 38 touchbacks last year.
Gould has replaced a legend be-fore. His brother, Robbie, was an all-star kicker at Central Moun-tain High in Lock Haven, Pa.
Robbie, who later starred at Penn State, actually got turned onto football by his younger brother.
“I started in seventh grade and he started a couple of months after I did after seeing that I was out there kicking in the backyard,” Chris Gould said. “He just became a kicker.”
The older brother could not be outdone by his younger sibling.
“That’s our family,” Chris Gould said. “We are competitive at every-thing, board games and every-thing. You bring your ‘A game’ all the time or else you go home.”
Life as a middle school kicker wasn’t glorious. Many games, depending on the decision of the home team, Gould would be of no use to his team.
“Sometimes I would come to the game and I would have no use,” Gould said. “I would come to the games and there weren’t kickoffs, there weren’t field goals and we weren’t punting. I would stand on the sidelines waving at mom and dad.”
Gould, blessed with a competi-tive edge, wanted to play so bad, he even tried his hand at running the ball. That was only temporary.
“I played pretty good at running back, but it wasn’t for me,” Gould chuckled. “I would rather just stand on the sidelines and wait for my turn and avoid all contact if possible.”
If history is a barometer, Gould hopes to make another smooth transition. After working primarily as the scout team kicker on the field goal block unit early in his rookie season, Virginia coach Al Groh summoned Gould into his office just six days before the Cavaliers traveled to Georgia Tech.
“He told me I was going to punt,” Gould recounted. “That was the first week I had ever punted at the University of Virginia pretty much.”
Gould, who replaced a strug-gling Sean Johnson, averaged 38.6 yards on 18 punts during the final three games and stayed in the starting lineup last year. Gould’s numbers - he punted 53 times for an average of 40 yards per kick - steadily improved, allowing the Cavaliers’ coaching staff to red-shirt punter Ryan Weigand.
With Gould still battling Wei-gand at punter, the Pennsylvania product finds himself battling to pull triple-duty.
“He’s very enthusiastic about doing that,” Groh said earlier this week. “Chris really likes to be in the middle of the action. He’s a really strong kid for a kicker and he seems to be showing no ill effects of it.
“In the short term, we’re going to continue with it - our only concern is over the course of four months whether all these kicks could add up to just too much work.”
Gould, who welcomes any way to get on the field, said his stam-ina should not be an issue.
“I feel as though my leg strength is pretty good. It really depends on the situation though,” Gould said. “There are some days where it is really windy in Scott Stadium. It depends on how open the stadium is. There are a lot of conditions that project how you are going to kick that day.
“Some days out there you might be able to hit a 65-yarder and the next day you come to that same spot and you can only hit a 30-yarder just depending on the way the wind is blowing.”
The wind played a joke on his brother last year in a game in Soldier Field. As Robbie Gould missed badly on a 39-yarder, his little brother started laughing hysterically.
“I thought ‘Wow, he really shanked that one.’ And then they showed the replay and I said, ‘Ah, well, the wind caught it.’” Gould said. “I was going to call him and give him a hard time, but then I said, ‘I better not. I might have to kick here soon.’”
Gould gets to make his place-kicking debut at another tough venue for kickers, Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, but the right-footer has done some homework.
“I have been to Heinz Field a couple of times and I actually got a couple of stats,” Gould said. “I know that college kickers made more field goals than the NFL kickers did there.”
It helps that the college game uses a heavier football, Gould said, while adding, “It’s still a hard place to kick in, nonetheless, with the open side towards the river and the wind coming in.”
With thoughts of Hughes drill-ing a game-winner against Minne-sota still dancing in the heads of Cavalier fans, Gould just hopes fans will be patient with him if he misses his first field goal.
His message to the Wahoo Na-tion?
“Don’t worry, if I miss one I will be back,” Gould said. “I am sure nerves will play a part when I get out there.”
Gould takes nothing for granted. He is a kicker after all, and shelf life can be short.
“At any moment, especially if you don’t have a very good year, you can be yanked,” Gould pointed out. “That’s just how it goes at any position. You have to stay on top of your game all the time. As the life of a kicker, it runs shorter too.
“Look at [Dallas Cowboys coach] Bill Parcells. You miss a field goal to win the game and you are not going to be on his team anymore. That’s kind of the same way it goes in college.”
Weigand putting his best foot forward for Cavs
By Todd Merchant / Daily Progress assistant sports editor
August 27, 2006
Six days from now, the Virginia football team will step onto Heinz Field in Pittsburgh ready to open its 2006 campaign. That’s when the Cavaliers will begin to answer some of the questions that have been hovering over them all preseason - How will Christian Olsen perform at quarterback? Can Jason Snelling make the move from fullback to tailback? Will Nate Lyles be tentative at all after suffering that neck injury last year?
But one question that’s just as important as those and one that many UVa fans may have overlooked: Can Ryan Weigand actually punt?
Sure, Weigand’s been drop-kicking footballs since the ’90s, but the question is still valid, considering he’s only played in about 10 games in the last four years, and those were all at the junior college level.
And Weigand himself will be the first person to admit that there is an air of uncertainty about his skills.
“I’m a fourth-year this year and I’ve played one year of football. People don’t have a lot of confidence in me,” he said. “They’re always saying, ‘How will he perform in a game when he hasn’t played in forever?’ That’s probably my biggest knock right now - no one knows how I’ll perform in a game.”
Weigand clearly has the leg to excel for the Cavaliers. While playing at Pasadena (Calif.) City College in 2004, he was one of the top juco punters in the nation, averaging 40.3 yards a punt and frequently booting the ball farther than 50 yards.
The biggest problem that has plagued Weigand during the preseason has been inconsistency. For every great kick he gets off, there’s another one that’s, well, not so good.
Despite his early troubles, Weigand isn’t too worried. He’s struggled before in practice, but things usually fall into place when gameday rolls around.
“When I first started at my junior college, I wasn’t kicking them all that well all the way up to the first game,” Weigand said. “In warmups for my first game, I didn’t know how I was going to perform, then I started killing balls, and it was just that adrenaline rush.”
That mellow approach comes naturally to Weigand, a California-bred former soccer standout at La Salle High School in Pasadena. Offered soccer scholarships from several D-II schools and even one D-I program (UC Irvine), Weigand chose instead to take the more risky path and try his hand at collegiate football.
“Everyone always told me to stick with soccer because that’s what I was best at,” Weigand said. “I was always all-league in football but never all-section or the greatest thing ever. But I just worked really hard, and people told me I couldn’t make it … so I wanted to prove everybody wrong.
“So when I got my scholarship, it was like, ‘In their face.’”
The road to a football scholarship was not a short one for Weigand. He spent three years at Pasadena City College, including one as a “grayshirt” - a classification special to California for non-full-time students - and another as a medical redshirt after he tore his groin in the first game of the 2003 season.
He finally showed what he could do in ’04 as he posted the best punting average in more than 20 seasons at Pasadena en route to earning all-conference honors.
Weigand garnered attention from programs such as Oregon, Alabama and Tulsa, but none of them were to his liking and he opted for Virginia.
Weigand arrived in Charlottesville to find himself surrounded by several talented “foot soldiers,” including starting punter Chris Gould.
Not seeing any action for another year was tough, but Weigand used his time on the sidelines to work on his technique and glean knowledge from Gould.
“I try to do the best I can to help him,” Gould said. “If I see something he’s doing wrong - maybe crossing over his inside step or little things - I point it out to him and help him out.”
With Gould taking over the placekicking duties this year, the punting job is Weigand’s for the taking.
And even if some critics question his abilities, Weigand will always have the support of his teammates.
“I think he looks ready to go,” Gould said. “I think he’ll do a wonderful job for us.”
Phillips holds onto his niche
Junior on scholarship as holder
By Barney Breen-Portnoy / Daily Progress correspondent
August 27, 2006
As a star quarterback at Memphis University School in Tennessee, John Phillips was used to being in the spotlight. As he raked in numerous accolades at the high school level, Phillips might have envisioned his upcoming collegiate career as more of the same.
Now, however, in his fourth year at Virginia, the spotlight is one thing that Phillips does not seek. That is the nature of the job when you are the holder.
“Usually it’s the position where no one knows you until you mess up, so I just go about my business, do what I’m supposed to do and try not to get in the spotlight,” said Phillips, a psychology major.
After walking on to the team in 2003 and finding himself buried deep down on the quarterback depth chart, Phillips has found a niche role for himself as the holder on field goals and extra points.
With the graduation of quarterback Matt Schaub, who also served as the team’s holder, following the 2003 season, Phillips found his chance to contribute on the football field. He has played in every game since.
“I kind of just saw myself adapting to whatever they needed me to do and help the team out in anyway I could,” he said.
Holding duties are usually pretty non-descript and routine. Late last season, however, Phillips made the first offensive contribution of his career at Virginia. He ran 10 yards for a first down on a fake field goal attempt during Virginia’s 27-17 victory over Georgia Tech.
Phillips laughed when asked how often Virginia fans could expect to see such trickery this season.
“Hopefully a lot,” he said. “Whether they call them will be the question.”
Glamour is not a word usually associated with holders. Phillips also smiled when asked what he introduced himself as when he goes out on the town.
“I just introduce myself as a football player,” he said. “I don’t designate myself as one position or the other.”
In practice, Phillips still takes snaps with Virginia’s other quarterbacks. Asked if any fake field goal touchdown passes are in the works this season, Phillips answered slyly.
“You never know,” he said.
UVa's Kicking Unit
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 27, 2006
Junior * 6-1 * 204
Lock Haven, Penn.
The Numbers: Gould has played in 15 games during his career at punter. The 20-year-old has punted 71 times for a career average of 39.6 yards per attempt. … Gould punted 53 times last year, including eight times against North Carolina in a 7-5 loss.
The Skinny: Gould could wind up kicking in on three different units as the place-kicker, kickoff specialist and punter. … Gould has never kicked a field goal or extra-point attempt in college, but was once of the nation’s top kickers out of high school. … Leg strength is not an issue, but Gould has said it is important for him to focus on accuracy. That means kicking at “80 percent” at times.
The Factoid: Gould is one of the better golfers on the team and has played a few local courses with his brother, Robbie, the placekicker for the Chicago Bears.
Sophomore * 6-2 * 181
The Numbers: Weigand did not appear in a game last year at UVa.
The Skinny: Weigand, one of the oldest Cavaliers at 23 years old, has the ability to booms punts when he cor-rectly strikes the ball. Incon-sistency has plagued him at times in training camp. … Virginia would love to have Weigand secure the job and fill that role for three seasons, but if he struggles the coach-ing staff may elect to use Chris Gould at times as the punter.
The Factoid: Weigand’s brother, Brett, kicked an 85-yard goal for the boys soccer team at La Salle High school last year.
Junior * 6-1 * 239
The Numbers: Gardner appeared in every game last year for the second straight season. … Gardner made seven tackles on special teams.
The Skinny: After handling the long-snapping duties for punts in 2003, Gardner was given the responsibility of snapping for place kicks as well last year. He handled both with success and was awarded a scholarship by the coaching staff. … Gardner showed great accuracy snapping for Connor Hughes – he was perfect on every snap – and was good on 50 of 54 snaps on punts. … Gardner is often the first defender down field on punts.
The Factoid: Garnder’s father is the defensive coordi-nator at George Wythe High School.
Junior * 6-2 * 188
The Skinny: Phillips, who is also listed at quarterback, has handled the holding duties since 2004 when he took over for Matt Schaub. … Phillips is expected to handle the duites again this year, but redshirt freshman Vic Hall could be used to give the team added option on fake field goals.
The Best of the Rest
Senior * 5-10 * 189
The Skinny: Greenbaum is the only kicker on the team who has made a field goal in a game. The Richmond native booted a 41-yarder against Temple last year. … Greenbaum is fighting Gould for the starting spot at place-kicker and has been near perfect in training camp. … Greenbaum, who punted twice in ‘03 against Troy, has received high praise from Coach Groh for his work ethic in training and practice drills.
Sophomore * 5-11 * 197
The Skinny: Andrews trav-eled to every game last year as the backup for Tyrus Gardner at long snapper but did not get into a game. … Andrews redshirted in ’04 and has three years of eligibility remaining.
Notebook: Wannstedt, Groh to meet again
By The Tribune-Review
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Pitt's Dave Wannstedt and Virginia's Al Groh coached against each other in the NFL when Wannstedt was with the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins and Groh was with the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
"I've always admired the work of his defense," Groh said during a Friday teleconference. "They've always been outstanding. I expect they will be hard to run the ball against and they will bring pressure to the quarterback."
Those were two of the Panthers' biggest weaknesses last season, so it will be interesting to see if Wannstedt can put his signature on those areas in his second season at Pitt.
• Groh said Pine-Richland graduate Kevin McCabe, a redshirt junior, had his best preseason and will be the Cavaliers' backup quarterback behind Christian Olson.
"Kevin's a real football guy," Groh said. "He's real immersed into developing himself."
• New Castle native Allen Billyk, a 6-foot-4, 288-pound redshirt junior, is listed as the starting nose tackle in Virginia's 3-4 defense.
"Allen is one of those players who brings dependability to the operation," Groh said. "He seldom makes a mental error and seldom has a technique error, so he's very solid and dependable in the middle and gives our two inside linebackers a comfort level with how they can operate."
• Wannstedt said junior Darrelle Revis will handle punt returns again this season after returning 28 for 324 yards and one touchdown, a 79-yarder against Cincinnati. Wannstedt is still undecided on who will return kickoffs, although LaRod Stephens-Howling, Kevin Collier, Dorin Dickerson and Lowell Robinson are candidates.
2-1 - Pitt's record against Virginia. The Panthers won, 26-0 in 1953, and 18-7 in '55. The Cavaliers won the last meeting, 23-16, in the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl.
- By Kevin Gorman
Bisher: 'The best game I ever saw'
Veteran columnist puts Tech-UVa classic in 1990 at the top of his list
Published on: 08/25/06
Topic: The best college football game I've ever seen? Hmm-m-m-m-m, let's see. That covers a lot of ground, all the way back to 1933, N.C. State-Wake Forest in old Reddick Field in Raleigh. It was a scoreless tie. I'd seen a game, but I still hadn't seen a touchdown. In the next 57 years I'd see plenty. I'd also see a boatload of "best games." Sometimes they'd come at you like a gusher, then you'd see another, and you were sure that it was better than the last.
Then, on a Saturday in November 1990, it hit and it stuck. Oh, it wasn't just the game, it was all the circumstances woven into it, a mosaic of college football at its finest. College football in a classic setting of the academe, between two institutions noted for maintaining the highest of standards. That week Virginia had been voted No. 1 in the country, the first time in the history of the Cavaliers — or "Wahoos," as they'd come to address themselves precociously. Charlottesville was alive with anticipation. You could almost feel its pulse-beat in the air.
This is one of America's classic college towns, given more to the historic than the histrionic. A bow-tie kind of town that presides over its own particular preserve in the Shenandoahs, rather unaccustomed to such autumn exhilaration as this. Georgia Tech had come into this atmospheric whirlpool ranked only 16th, but undefeated, its only blemish a 13-13 tie with North Carolina.
Most unbecoming to this campus, some dastardly wretches had broken into Scott Stadium and set fire to the artificial turf during the night. By the time the fire department could extinguish the flames, the field had been seriously burned and the damage was extensive. But athletics director Jim Copeland and his staff never blinked, and the 18-by-32-foot section of the turf was repaired with time to spare for the 2:30 kickoff, as designated by the CBS network for its national telecast.
Tell the truth, this was the loftiest moment in UVa football, and staid old Scott Stadium overflowed. So did its press box, where every inch of space was filled. To memorialize the occasion, sports information director Rich Murray had distributed T-shirts to all occupants that read: "I Squeezed Into the Press Box at Scott Stadium — Virginia vs. Georgia Tech, November 3, 1990." I still have mine and sleep in it on occasion.
On the Georgia Tech side, here was Bobby Ross, a VMI graduate returning to his home state for the most important game in his career as the Yellow Jackets coach. It was a match between two quarterbacks named Shawn — Jones of Georgia Tech, Moore of Virginia. At halftime, Virginia had banked a 28-24 lead, and history showed that 49 of the 55 times the Cavaliers led at halftime in George Welsh's reign, they won.
Tech tied the score at 28-all, then six times held off the Cavaliers offense inside the 6-yard line. One touchdown was called back for illegal procedure, and Virginia had to settle for a field goal. From here on in, it was a battle of knock-down offenses. Virginia went ahead, then Tech fired back, and on it went. As the third quarter ended, William Bell crashed into the end zone and Scott Sisson — remember that name? — kicked the tying 35th extra point. Sisson then kicked a field goal, and Tech had its first lead. Virginia came back with a field goal of its own, and the score was tied again, 38-all, with darkness closing in on Charlottesville.
Two minutes left, Tech moved the ball from its own 24-yard line to the Virginia 20. Timeout. Seven seconds were left, and Virginia retaliated with a timeout to "freeze" Sisson, who was lined up for a field goal. Scott Aldredge kneeled for the snap, placed the ball, and Sisson kicked it through the uprights from 37 yards, the clock ran out, and the two Scotts had beaten Virginia in its own Scott Stadium, 41-38.
"I think we're back," Bobby Ross said, "and I've been reluctant to say that," and he was right on. Georgia Tech finished its run against Wake Forest and Georgia, then husked Nebraska's corn in the Citrus Bowl, thus becoming nation's No. l, at least in the eyes of one news service.
Ross would win one more bowl game in Hawaii the next season, then shockingly depart for the San Diego Chargers and a Super Bowl, then the Detroit Lions, then a Lions "burnout."
Now he's back in the college game, trying to restore pride at West Point, just as he did when he came to Georgia Tech.