U.Va.'s Mendez-Zfass proving to be real catch
Redshirt freshman from Collegiate is in running for WR spot
By JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
CHARLOTTESVILLE If sure hands were the sole requirement,
redshirt freshman Zach Mendez-Zfass probably would be a lock to start at wide
receiver for the University of Virginia football team.
"Anything you throw to him, he will catch it," U.Va. quarterback Jameel Sewell said. "I can guarantee that. If it's behind him, if it's inside U-Hall -- if you throw it through the glass, he's going to go in there and catch it before it hits the ground."
Before a wideout can catch a pass, though, he must get open. Mendez-Zfass, a 2006 graduate of Collegiate, has good size for a major-college receiver -- he's listed at 6-1, 193 -- but only average speed. His improvement in that area will determine how much he contributes to the team he rooted for as a youngster.
"He's got great ball skills, he's a sharp kid, he works his tail off," said Wayne Lineburg, who coaches Virginia's wideouts. "Right now, he's behind some of the other guys, just speed-wise, but as far as catching the ball and knowing what to do, he's doing a really, really good job."
Mendez-Zfass earned all-state honors in football and lacrosse at Collegiate. As a senior, he caught 70 passes for 1,250 yards and nine touchdowns and repeated as an All-Metro selection. To hear Mendez-Zfass tell it, credit for those numbers belongs to then-Cougars quarterback Russell Wilson, whose high school exploits are legendary.
"Are you kidding me?" Mendez-Zfass said. "It was easy with him."
Mendez-Zfass had opportunities to play Division III or I-AA football, but when Virginia invited him to walk on, he didn't hesitate. He has family ties to U.Va., including a grandfather who graduated from there and who took him to games at Scott Stadium.
"So coming here was a very easy choice," Mendez-Zfass said. "And I didn't want to sacrifice school for football."
Mendez-Zfass is one of three walk-ons in the Cavaliers' receiving corps, along with Cary Koch and Staton Jobe. Koch was a scholarship wideout at Tulane before transferring to U.Va. Jobe, a speedster from Texas, might start if the season began today.
"I really feel like, at this point, I'm being given a shot to prove myself, and that's all I can ask for," Mendez-Zfass said.
Now, about the hyphenation. Richmond-area sports fans may recall that he went by Zach Mendez when he played for Collegiate. Zfass is his mother's maiden name, and his father's last name is Mendez. He decided to honor both.
"My dad's Spanish," Mendez-Zfass said, "and it's a tradition in Spain, with your mother's maiden name and your father's name, to combine them."
Green happy to be at Virginia
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 13, 2007
Jared Green was basking in the moment.
Despite watching his recently obtained cherry slushee melt in front of his very eyes, the true freshman wideout proudly displayed a smile on Sunday at Scott Stadium as he answered questions from media members.
After having flown under the radar from the recruiting analysts, Green admitted he is truly happy to be a member of UVa’s football program.
“I am more than excited,” said Green, who was a two-star prospect. “Every day is a dream out here. Being a part of this team and everything that Coach [Al] Groh is doing right now is making us more like a family than an organization.”
For now, the rookie is known as the son of former Washington Redskins legend Darrell Green, who visited training camp this weekend.
It was at cornerback, however, that the elder Green made his mark - in 20 seasons for the Redskins, Darrell Green had 54 interceptions and went to seven Pro Bowls.
Jared Green, who appears bigger than his listed size of 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds, said there were a couple of factors in his decision to play wide receiver.
“I like offense and helping the team put points on the board. Not that the defense doesn’t, but that is our main goal,” Green said. “I also got a little bit taller than my dad, so I figured I would try something a little bit different.
“Plus, I have better hands than him.”
He might possess as much or greater quickness, truly a bold statement.
When asked about Jared Green last week, Groh said he was “fast,” then altered the statement.
“Real fast,” Groh proclaimed.
Green’s interest in Virginia intensified long before his senior season. One of the rookie’s childhood pals and high school teammate at Oakton is UVa tailback Keith Payne, a redshirt freshman.
“Keith and I go back to when I was in middle school,” Green said. “We have always been great friends, and it is amazing that we are both here together when we were just together in high school. It is really a blessing.”
Given their relationship and knowledge of the situation, Jared Green was not concerned when Payne was suspended from the team by Groh over the summer to focus on academics.
“I knew that was all going to be taken care of,” Green said. “Keith is a hard worker and sometimes he is misunderstood, but he has the right motivation.”
The speedy youngster has not given up hope that he will play this season, but his main focus, even if it is on the scout team, remains in helping Virginia shock the ACC.
“As a whole, nobody is looking at our team to be great,” he said. “That’s what we want. Like a thief in the night, we are going to come in and do big things.
“Our goal is to win championships, and that is what we are planning to do.”
Losing the local flavor?
Virginia’s roster currently boasts only two players from Central Virginia.
And with defensive end Chris Long (St. Anne’s-Belfield) entering his final season as a Cavalier, offensive lineman B.J. Cabbell may soon be the odd man.
Cabbell, a redshirt freshman, played high school football at Nelson County and is well aware of the dying trend.
“I will be the only local guy from close to Charlottesville left,” Cabbell said. “That’s the way it seems.”
Cabbell is currently slotted behind Ian-Yates Cunningham at right guard and said the transition year into the program was critical for his development.
“I learned a lot last year,” said Cabbell, who is listed at 6-6 and 300 pounds. “I learned the offense very well, and I am still learning more every day. You can’t ever stop learning.
“I wouldn’t say it is a complicated offense but it takes a lot of learning. You have to take it all in. You have to sit back for a minute and make sure all the calls are right in certain situations.”
One of the given conclusions at open practices on Friday and Saturday involved tight end John Phillips.
If the ball approached Phillips, the sophomore was going to make the catch. Members of the coaching staff have raved about Phillips and his progression, and he is expected to see ample playing time on offense and special teams this year.
“[Phillips] has certainly improved as a receiver, but that would be an incomplete picture to put it that way,” Groh said last week. “Really, he is getting more passes [thrown at him] because he is in for more plays, and he is in for more plays because he has improved every facet of his game.”
Phillips is lumped into one of the most talented positions on the team. Seniors Tom Santi and Jonathan Stupar have enjoyed solid careers and redshirt freshman Joe Torchia has improved steadily during the past 12 months.
Lyles still grabbing attention
ReadIn here and here and here and here
By Doug Doughty
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- It was a rare occurrence earlier this month when 11 Virginia players donned orange jerseys at the start of the practice.
Coach Al Groh has had a tradition of awarding an orange practice jersey to a defensive player who has earned a starting job, but rarely have the Cavaliers had 11 players in orange, at least not at this time of year.
And they're not at 11 now.
Unbeknownst to Groh, two-year starter Nate Lyles switched into a blue jersey this past weekend.
"What's the deal with Nate and the blue jersey?" Groh asked his assistants in a staff meeting after practice Saturday.
"They said, 'Oh, Nate took himself out. He said he made a couple of mental errors Friday that, if you're going to be an elite player, you don't make. When he thought his game warranted it, he would put his orange jersey back on.' "
Monday night's practice was closed to the media and public, but Lyles probably won't be in blue for long.
"This is a very, very conscientious player," Groh said. "Very conscientious. Very easy to coach. And fun to coach."
Groh grew accustomed to Lyles knocking on his office door during the summer and asking if there were any particular tapes he should view.
Lyles was one of the feel-good stories of Virginia's 2006 season, coming back from a neck injury that caused him to be carted off the field during the Cavaliers' 2005 game with Georgia Tech.
Despite surgery in which doctors fused vertebrae in his back, Lyles was back in the starting lineup for the 2006 opener.
"Within minutes of the first practice he was back, he was right up in there, boom, full force," Groh said. "It was apparent that there was never any hesitancy on his part to get right back to where he was before."
Lyles had always been known as a hard hitter and that didn't change. But as the season went along, UVa did more platooning at safety and Lyles shared time with Jamaal Jackson and Byron Glaspy. Lyles did not start the last two games.
"His game quickly came back to where it was when he was hurt," Groh said, "but it didn't move on to third-year performance. It was good at some things and it didn't necessarily get better at the other things."
Lyles' season might have been summed up by a play in the opening game at Pittsburgh, when he intercepted a Tyler Palko pass but was run down from behind before he could score a touchdown.
"I had to hear about that all season," said Lyles of the kidding he received from teammates. "I was tired, more tired than I should have been."
Lyles isn't the fastest in the Virginia secondary, but he's fast enough to play safety for a top-25 team, Groh said.
The Cavaliers' yield of 289.5 yards per game was the lowest by a Virginia defense since 1979, but it could have been better. UVa allowed touchdown passes of 72, 78, 58, 66, 77 and 49 yards.
"I think this defense could have been a lot better last year in terms of all the long balls we gave up," said Lyles, a Chicago native. "I think we've got a lot more proving to do."
For the first time in his UVa career, Lyles will have the same position coach in successive seasons. Steve Bernstein took over the Cavaliers' defensive backs in spring 2006, but that was when Lyles was recuperating from his operation.
"It felt a lot better going through the spring and being able to refine different techniques," he said. "I feel like I had a really good off-season program. A lot of guys, me included, have gotten a lot faster and stronger."
Ward representing Virginia well
Former Cavs star one of several alumni tearing up MLL
By Whitelaw Reid / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
August 13, 2007
Former Virginia lacrosse player Matt Ward just wrapped up his second year as a professional for the Washington Bayhawks of Major League Lacrosse. The 2006 Tewaaraton Trophy winner, who helped lead UVa to an NCAA championship that season, had 18 goals and nine assists this summer.
The Bayhawks finished 5-7 and failed to qualify for the playoffs. In addition to embarking on a pro lacrosse career, Ward has started a new job in sales at ESPN. Virginia lacrosse beat writer Whitelaw Reid recently caught up with Ward.
DP: How would you say your first couple years as a pro went, what was the experience like?
MW: I definitely missed my days at Virginia a lot, but competing is great. I think every college athlete just has that attitude to go out and compete at the highest level, and the MLL gives you a chance to do that once your college days are over.
DP: Any personal highlights from this season, games that really stuck out?
MW: “I made the All-Star game, which was really a great honor - [former UVa teammate] Kyle Dixon and myself. [Matt] Poskay, [Mike] Culver and [J.J.] Morrissey made it, too. So we had five guys from our ’06 UVa team representing. For me, that really stood out. It kind of validated what we were able to accomplish in college. It showed we could play at an even higher level and with the best players in the world.”
DP: What was the biggest adjustment from the college to the pro game?
MW: “Staying in shape and getting used to a more physical style of lacrosse. In the MLL, players kind of have free reign to do whatever they want - they cross-check, they slash.”
DP: What is the salary range for MLL players?
MW: “Anywhere from $8,000 for rookies to about $20,000 for the better players.”
DP: Did you follow Virginia this year - what was your reaction to the team getting upset by Delaware?
MW: “It was tough. [Delaware’s] face-off guy was the best in the country. [Virginia] was a young team, but I think this year they’ll have some seniors who are going to take charge, plus some freshmen and sophomores who are going to make names for themselves. That will be fun to watch for alumni.”
DP: How long do you think you’ll continue playing?
MW: “I think as long as my body lets me. I love playing lacrosse. Guys in this league don’t play for the money. You do it to help the game grow. For the game to be as good as it can be, it needs a pro level. Hopefully we can be part of the group that can look back and say, ‘We helped build that league.’”
DP: Anything you’d like to tell people back at UVa?
MW: “We’re missing our days in Charlottesville for sure, but we couldn’t have asked for a better experience there. We’re going to keep in touch.”