Friday, Aug 10, 2007 - 12:06 AM Updated: 12:42 AM
Most of freshman class is likely to redshirt
The starting center on Virginia's football team is senior Jordy Lipsey. The heir apparent at that position is redshirt freshman Jack Shields, and his backup in 2008 will probably come from the class that entered Al Groh's program this summer.
Groh said yesterday that Anthony Mihota, a freshman from Fredericksburg, has been working at center in training camp. Some of Mihota's classmates figure to be tried there, too.
U.Va., which used only one true freshman in 2006, is expected to play more newcomers this season.
Still, most of the freshman class is likely to redshirt, which will allow the coaching staff to experiment with players at different spots.
Groh hasn't always had that luxury.
In 2002, for example, true freshman Kwakou Robinson was pressed into service at defensive end.
Robinson remained on the defensive line for the rest of a disappointing career.
"Had those circumstances been different, and we'd had a year to observe him, there's probably a 50-50 chance he would have ended up an offensive lineman," Groh said.
DE Conrath draws comparison to Canty
When U.Va. hired Groh in December 2000, he inherited a tall, lean defensive end named Chris Canty. The 6-7 Canty now weighs around 300 pounds and starts for the Dallas Cowboys.
Physically, Groh said, Matt Conrath reminds him of a younger Canty. Conrath, a 6-7 freshman from the Chicago area, has been working at defensive end since camp started at U.Va.
"When we first got here Chris was in the low 250s, and I think Matt Conrath is 252," Groh said. "At this point that's an apt comparison."
Leitao looking at Vermont's Turner
Basketball coach Dave Leitao has an opening on his staff, and he might move Drew Diener into the assistant's spot vacated by Rob Lanier, who left in May for Florida. Or Diener might remain director of basketball operations, his position for the past two years.
Whatever Leitao decides, he needs to fill out his staff soon. Among the candidates he's considering is Hajj Turner, an assistant coach at Vermont.
Turner, a 2001 graduate of Louisville, where he played for Denny Crum and Rick Pitino, knows his way around U.Va. He graduated from Charlottesville High, and his father, Rick, is a former dean of African-American Affairs at U.Va.
Others who might be interested in joining Leitao's staff include former U.Va. player and assistant Anthony Solomon, fired in March after four seasons as head coach at St. Bonaventure; former Georgia State coach Michael Perry, who starred at the University of Richmond; and former Temple star Rick Brunson.
Football players keep surgeons busy
Three U.Va. football players have had reconstructive knee surgery in 2007: wide receiver Kevin Ogletree and cornerbacks Chase Minnifield and Mike Brown.
Minnifield, a freshman, had his operation in January. Ogletree's was in April, and Brown's was in June. They're now under the supervision of trainers and strength-and-conditioning coaches at Virginia.
"Both Chase and Kevin are actively working during practice; Mike Brown, less so," Groh said yesterday.
Neither Ogletree nor Brown is likely to play this season, Groh has said.
Minnifield hasn't been cleared for contact, and U.Va. is in no hurry with his rehabilitation.
"This is a multi-talented player with a very good future in front of him at a position where, as things stand right now, there's [no need] to rush him out there," Groh said.
Candidates line up to join Peerman
In junior Cedric Peerman, Virginia has one of the ACC's premier return specialists. Peerman averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return in 2006 and 25.8 in '05.
Candidates to line up alongside him this season include junior Andrew Pearman, sophomore Mikell Simpson and redshirt freshmen Raynard Horne and Chris Dalton, Groh said. Freshman Max Milien also returned kicks during Wednesday night's special-teams practice. -- Jeff White
Captains have different ways of leading
By Jay Jenkins / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
August 9, 2007
Tight end Tom Santi did not have a campaign slogan. Defensive end Chris Long never mentioned he was an incumbent. Left guard Branden Albert gave the process little thought, if any.
But when spring practice concluded earlier this year, Albert, Long and Santi were named team captains, an honor awarded after a team vote.
Individually, the three are very different.
Albert, often flashing an infectious smile, gives the huddle a sense of security. Long, who is clearly the face of the program, is the emotional, outspoken leader. Santi, easily confused with a church mouse, just plays the game hard, never complaining and often playing through pain.
Collectively, the group complements each other to no end, a comforting feeling for coach Al Groh.
“We work really well together,” Santi said. “My way of leading is by example, for the most part.
“But if I feel like there is something that needs to be addressed, I am not against it.”
While the captain’s tag brings responsibility, don’t expect the demeanors of each to be altered.
“I don’t think I really have to change anything because I was voted captain,” Santi said. “It’s nice to know that those guys believe in me enough to vote me into that position. So I guess I am doing enough, but I am not a loud guy.
“If something needs to be said, I will say it.”
On the eve of the first practice, “something” needed to be said.
With a host of true freshmen set to embark on their first training camp, the captains and other veterans offered some last-minute advice.
“Be a professional out here,” he told the rookies. “You are not getting paid to play football, but be professional out here. You are a college athlete, so be on time, be a class act out here - on and off the practice field.
“But that’s stuff they should know by the first day of training camp, hopefully, if we are doing our job right.”
Entering his final training camp, Long also told the youngsters to cherish the moment.
“Just don’t take anything for granted; it goes quickly,” he said. “I am sitting here as a fourth-year and it is pretty surreal.
“Just play with intensity. This is your livelihood. This is why you put in all this work. Come to practice every day like it is a game, and when it is game time it is really on.”
A two-sport athlete
While his teammates were focused on completing courses last spring, running back Cedric Peerman took a trip down memory lane.
An accomplished high school track star at William Campbell, Peerman showcased his speed on Virginia’s track team.
In fact, Peerman was successful enough to earn a spot on the 400-meter relay team that took sixth place in the ACC Outdoor Championships at Maryland.
“It was a great change of pace from football,” Peerman said. “I got to visit some really nice places, meet some new people and work out my body at the same time. It was real nice.”
The experience could pay huge dividends for Virginia.
With the Cavaliers boasting little experience in their backfield, Peerman opened training camp Monday as the clear leader to take the first handoff of the season. With that comes added pressure to perform, but the junior said his approach is unchanged.
“I just try to go into every camp and my goal is to be prepared to go into the first game and do well,” said Peerman, who has rushed for 390 yards and seven touchdowns in two years. “I just try to show the coaches each and every day how I progressed from the day before.”
Peerman will likely be asked to perform double-duty, but he welcomes the challenge of returning kickoffs.
“I am not concerned,” he said. “I am a running back and that is what I am supposed to do. I run. That’s my job.
“Whatever it takes to help my team win, if that is returning kicks and going right into the huddle right after that, I just want to play.”
Peerman has returned 40 kickoffs in his career, including 19 last year for 519 yards.
Weight room wonder
Clint Sintim could hardly believe what he was witnessing.
To say the least, true freshman J’Courtney Williams put on a show in the weight room during the summer.
“I was lifting with him and I am like, ‘Wow,’” said Sintim, a starting linebacker. “He was a safety in high school, but that kid is really strong.”
Williams will likely settle into a position in the next few weeks, but he could be used at linebacker or as a strong safety, which Groh hinted at earlier this year when saying that the rookie reminded him of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Coming out of Christchurch, the biggest knock on Williams dealt with the competition, or lack thereof, that he faced.
Long, who played at St. Anne’s-Belfield, also a private school, laughed that off.
“[Williams] is a strong kid. He looks good in a pair of shoulder pads,” Long said. “He looks like a ballplayer.
“Private school, first-year guys … take heed because we are not too bad, especially around here.”
Extra points …
… Redshirt freshman Jack Shields, who is working at center behind Jordy Lipsey, could be a player to watch in training camp. Nate Collins and Zak Stair certainly think so. When asked by a member of the Virginia Media Relations staff, Collins and Stair said Shields was the player they were most interested in watching to see improvements. Collins, of course, may be biased - Shields is his roommate.
… Wednesday’s practice session was brief, allowing players extra time to study for an exam period that started Wednesday morning and concludes this afternoon. Due to those finals, the Cavaliers will practice tonight at 6:45. The session is closed to the public, but practices on Friday (2:20 p.m.) and two on Saturday (8:35 a.m. and 6:35 p.m.) are open.
LB Hall tries to find a role
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 10, 2007
Football recruiting has often been referred to as a science.
Recruiting services, which offer in-depth rank-ings by state and position, annually try to predict the merit of high school prospects.
At times, the forecasts are perfect. For example, Reggie Bush was the No. 2 prospect in the nation in 2003.
Other times, those experiments leave fans scratching their heads. Former Virginia running back Michael Johnson, rated as a five-star prospect, rushed for only 787 yards in a 39-game career.
Many of the player projections, however, strictly remain unsolved.
Virginia linebacker Olu Hall falls squarely into this category.
In 2004, Hall was the No. 1 prep player in Virginia on the “Gold List,” an annual compilation by The Daily Progress. At that time, Hall edged out current teammate Chris Long, Kent Hicks (Liberty), Jerod Mayo (Tennessee) and Eddie Royal (Virginia Tech).
While Long is embarking on the final season of a storied career at UVa, Hall has appeared in only eight games.
After spending 2004 at Hargrave Military Academy, Hall played for the Cavaliers as a true freshman in ’05. Seeing the field for 94 plays that season, Hall was credited with only one assisted tackle.
Then came yet another setback - Hall redshirted last year, forced to focus on academics.
Now back in a crowded mix at outside linebacker, Hall is attempting to make up for lost time.
“He hasn’t had a lot of football in the last year,” said Virginia coach Al Groh. “Certainly he has talent, he has a real motor, he has a feel for the game.”
Barring injuries, Clint Sintim and Jermaine Dias will start on the outside. Where Hall fits into the puzzle should be answered in the next few weeks; but the same could also be said for Denzel Burrell, Aaron Clark and John-Kevin Dolce.
“Now that we get into the multiple facets of things - special teams, nickel, dime, regular defense - we have to determine what [Hall’s] role is going to be and where he can have the most impact,” Groh said. “There are certainly some interesting possibilities there with him.”
Hall has at least one person in his cheering section as he attempts maintain a balance between football and academic stability.
“He is easy to root for and he deserves something positive to happen for him, and we are hoping that that’s the case,” Groh said. “Olu has worked very hard at things and very diligently since he has been here.”
When Virginia hits the practice field today at 2:20 p.m., fans will be given their first chance to watch.
In all, the Cavaliers have five open practice sessions, including a pair on Saturday (8:35 a.m. and 6:35 p.m.).
In the past, the turnout at these sessions served as an indication of interest in the program, but Groh is not focused on the attendance figures.
“It doesn’t have any impact on us at all - we are trying to focus on what we are doing - but we do like to give the fans that are so loyal and interested the opportunity to come out,” Groh said. “We have made friends with a lot of them because we see a lot of the same faces.
“Those are the people that it is really nice to afford the opportunity for.”
Fans in attendance may notice three members of team working individually on the side.
Mike Brown, Chase Minnifield and Kevin Ogle-tree are all recovering from respective knee surgeries. Those operations took place during the course of a six-month period.
“When you get a chance to see them, you will see that their activities reflect the different time tables for when the surgeries occurred,” Groh said. “Chase and Kevin are actively working during practice … Mike Brown less so because he hasn’t progressed to that point yet.”
Minnifield, a true freshman, had surgery to repair a torn ACL in January. Ogletree, a wideout, had his operation in April, two months before Brown was sidelined.
The coaching staff is taking a conservative approach with Minnifield because “as things stand right now [at cornerback], there is not a need to rush him out there,” Groh said. “We are looking at his circumstance on a long-term career basis rather than just these current days.”
Extra points …
… True freshman Matt Conrath is working at defensive end, Groh said. Anthony Mihota, meanwhile, is debuting at center, a position where several rookies will audition.
… Groh said former wideout Simon Manka was offered a scholarship, but elected not to rejoin the team. “He decided that financially he couldn’t afford to come back and do it on his own,” the coach said, “so he moved on.” Manka did not catch a pass last year, but he scored a touchdown in the spring game.
Grind begins earnestly
By Doug Doughty
The calendar may have said Virginia started preseason football practice Monday. Coach Al Groh knows better.
"Tomorrow will be the first day that the real rhythm of camp starts," Groh said Thursday. "None of us players and coaches will have to look at our itineraries on a day-to-day basis to find out 'What time is practice? What time is dinner? When are we doing this?'
"Then, the players will have only one issue at hand and, for a short period of time, that will be football."
Virginia doesn't start classes until Aug. 28, which is late by most standards, and that was connected with a later end to summer school. Most of UVa's players were enrolled in the third session of summer school, which ended this week.
Practices have been productive "given the circumstances in which they've been conducted," Groh said.
Practices today from 2:30-5 p.m. and Saturday at 8:45 a.m. and 6:35 p.m. will be open to the public.
Looking for progress
Virginia's in-state recruiting efforts have been much debated, but the Cavaliers do boast the state's No. 1-ranked prospect from 2003, outside linebacker Olu Hall from Robinson High School in Fairfax. Hall, who prepped at Hargrave Military Academy, is a redshirt sophomore after sitting out the 2006 season to concentrate on academics.
"Olu has worked hard at things and very diligently since he's been here," Groh said. "We hope that the [summer-school] results bear that out. ...
"He hasn't had a lot of football over the past year. He's got talent, he's got a real motor, he's got a real feel for the game. Now that we get into the multiple facet of things, [such as] special teams, nickel, dime, regular defense, we'll have to determine what his role is going to be and where he can have the most impact."
Wyoming coach Joe Glenn to boosters after hearing that the Cowboys were 312-point underdogs to visiting Virginia in the opener Sept. 1:
"If we're three-point underdogs, load up on the Pokes," said Glenn before adding, "No, I didn't say that."
Cavaliers get down to business today
BY MELINDA WALDROP | 247-4634
August 10, 2007
Today, Virginia's football team will practice in full uniforms
for the first time. Head coach Al Groh is looking forward to the sight.
"It starts to look a little more like the game is intended to look," Groh said. On Wednesday night, when the team put on shoulder pads for the first time, "that made it look a little bit more like football," Groh said.
Wednesday night's practice was a light one as the players prepared for final summer-school exams Thursday. On Thursday night, the coaches and players will be able to focus squarely on football - an intensified approach that will continue in today's 2:20 p.m. practice, which is open to the public.
"(Today) will be the first day the real rhythm of camp starts," Groh said. "None of us coaches will have to look at our watches to find out our itinerary ... The players will only have one issue at hand for a short period of time, and that will be football."
The shorter, later practices to accommodate exam schedules have kept the players off the field during the heat of the day, though Groh said the coaching staff has stressed staying hydrated. Only one of U.Va.'s first three practices was conducted in the afternoon.
"It's warm at midnight these days, but it's a lot less than it would have been during the day," Groh said.
A new face on the Cavaliers' roster for 2007 is walk-on quarterback Brendan Lane. Lane, 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds and a native of Annapolis, Md., is one of four walk-ons who joined the Cavaliers this season.
Groh said Lane was interested in Virginia out of Severn School, a prep school in Severn Park, Md. U.Va. coaches were also aware of Lane, and impressed with the skills he showed on tape.
"He's a nice, tall, lean player," said Groh, who said Lane participated in the Cavs' summer program. "He knows the players, he knows the routine a little bit, so that's made it a little bit easier for him to get going than some of the kids who just came in here on Sunday."
The other walk-ons are fullback Curt Orshoski (6-2, 240) of Culpeper, offensive lineman Dave Roberts (6-6, 286) of Riverview High in Sarasota, Fla., and tailback William Webb (5-9, 171) of Highland Park High in Dallas.
Orshoski played linebacker at Culpeper and led the Devils in tackles during his senior season, drawing some Ivy League interest.
Groh said Roberts' dad is a Virginia graduate, and "he's certainly got the requisite size to have a chance to compete."
That can't be said for Webb, but Groh sees potential in the undersized back.
"He's a good student from a top program in Texas," Groh said. "They're used to playing in big games. They're used to winning, and he played a big role in that. ... His options were to come here or go to an Ivy League school, (so) that's the kind of kid that's a good fit for us. He's got some speed; he just doesn't have a lot of size."
AWAITING THE GRADES
Almost all of the 105 players in fall practice took summer classes, Groh said, and "We have a couple of cases where we need a good performance on these (final) exams."
One of those cases is heralded freshman tailback Keith Payne, who was rated SuperPrep's No. 21 running back in the country out of Oakton High in Herndon. But Payne hasn't practiced after being suspended from the team because of poor academic performance.
Payne's situation will be re-evaluated after exam grades are in.
Hagans plays his way into the mix
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
History suggests that judging the Rams' Marques Hagans hastily is a mistake.
Early in his college career as a quarterback at Virginia, the speedy Hagans was regarded as a scrambler who wasn't much of a threat as a passer. But he worked on his throwing and improved dramatically.
In his final game for the Cavaliers, Hagans passed for 358 yards — a school record for a postseason game — and two touchdowns in a 34-31 Music Bowl victory over Minnesota.
"The heart and the energy, as well as the production that Marques provided us, was just a tremendous punctuation point to the career that he's had at Virginia," Cavs coach Al Groh told reporters. "He's been a special player for us."
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Hagans didn't look so special last year during his rookie training camp. His transition to wide receiver was bumpy, and the team's decision to spend a fifth-round draft pick on Hagans seemed dubious.
He spent the season on the practice squad, buying himself time to adjust to his new position.
"As hard as it was not to be on the team, to be on the practice squad helped me a lot," Hagans said. "It gave me a chance to really work on little things with my game. ... It definitely was a good learning experience."
One of the assistant coaches recently said Hagans had advanced more than any other player on offense, and coach Scott Linehan didn't disagree.
"Marques is definitely one of the guys who has really improved from where he was a year ago," Linehan said. "He had an excellent offseason, and now he's competing for a roster spot."
Hagans and Dominique Thompson appear to be the leading contenders for the No. 6 job at wideout, although newly acquired Fred Gibson could figure into the mix. Hagans and Thompson should see extensive action Friday in the preseason opener at Minnesota. ST. LOUIS RAMS
The toughest part of the move to wideout was learning to get off jams at the line of scrimmage and becoming a precise route runner, Hagans said. Once he was comfortable in those areas, he was able to hone his pass-catching skills.
"At any position, your talent will begin to emerge once you have a better feel for what you're doing and you can just let your talent take over," said Hagans, who also returns punts and kicks. "The main thing is, you've got to be consistent. That's what I'm focusing on."
As for making the 53-man roster, Hagans remains philosophical. "At the end of the day, where the cards fall, they fall," he said. "All I can worry about is trying to be the best player I can be every day."
Gibson, a fourth-round draft choice in 2005 who spent the last two seasons on Miami's practice squad, practiced with the Rams on Tuesday. Gibson, 6-4 and 202 pounds, recently was cut by Atlanta. ... To create a roster spot, the team reached an injury settlement with wideout Lamart Barrett, an undrafted rookie who was out with a dislocated shoulder. ... Tuesday's single practice was held indoors because of the heat.