Tuesday, Aug 21, 2007 - 12:06 AM
Fitzgerald holds up his end on defense
Senior Chris Long is on the cover of U.Va.'s media guide, and he's considered one of the nation's top defensive ends. Teammate Jeffrey Fitzgerald may not be far behind.
As a redshirt freshman in 2006, the Hermitage High graduate had 12 tackles for loss, recovered two fumbles, caused a fumble and intercepted two passes.
"Jeffrey is a special individual," defensive coordinator Mike London said. "He's a guy that you can coach or tell him to do something one time - or correct one time - and then the next time the situation occurs, he took the coaching and corrected the mistake.
"You can tell that he listens . . . Jeffrey gets it, and that's the thing about him that separates him from a lot of other players. He gets it, and I imagine he's going to have his share of plays to be made as teams try to deal with Chris, but that's the benefit of having two guys that are playmakers on both sides."
Big impact seen from Jackson at FB
Running backs coach Anthony Poindexter on Rashawn Jackson: "That's a big rolling ball of thunder right there."
Jackson, a 6-1, 254-pound sophomore, moved from inside linebacker to fullback after last season. Long, for one, can't wait to see Jackson in action.
"I'd say Rashawn is one of the best five athletes on the team," Long said. "A lot of people don't know that, because unfortunately he hasn't been able to play so much, but he is going to be something else if he just continues on an upward swing."
Asked Saturday if Jackson did anything to change his body after switching positions, U.Va. coach Al Groh said, "Yeah, he got fat."
Jackson has since dropped some of those extra pounds. "We have an active weight-control program going on," Groh said.
Roster indicates cornerback abundance
Virginia's roster includes eight scholarship cornerbacks. Six have been full participants in practice: junior Chris Cook, sophomore Vic Hall, redshirt freshmen Mike Parker and Trey Womack and true freshmen Ras-I Dowling and Dom Joseph.
The other two are coming off reconstructive knee surgery: Mike Brown and Chase Minnifield. After taking a medical redshirt this year, Brown will have two years of eligibility left. Minnifield, a true freshman, had his operation in January, and he's likely to redshirt this season.
"You can't have enough corners," Groh said.
Bivens, Carter prepare for LB roles
Juniors Jon Copper and Antonio Appleby are the returning starters at inside linebacker, and barring injuries, they'll probably hold down first-team spots next season, too.
Redshirt freshmen John Bivens and Darnell Carter are the next generation at inside linebacker. Bivens, a Prince George High graduate, is 6-2, 233 pounds and runs exceptionally well. Carter, from Englewood, N.J., goes 6-3, 249, and is a ferocious tackler.
"That's my brother, on and off the field," Bivens said. "It's kind of like the power and the speed. We're a good duo."
Players are working at different positions
Cross-training has been common in training camp for the past several days. Safety Jamaal Jackson has worked at wide receiver, defensive end Alex Field at offensive tackle and offensive guard Ian-Yates Cunningham at center.
"We tried to do the same thing with Ian that we did with Alex and Jamaal," Groh said. "We just did it on the same side of the ball."
Field, the top reserve at defensive end, probably would be the fourth player Groh could use at offensive tackle, behind starters Eugene Monroe and Will Barker and backup Zak Stair.
Groh wants to redshirt offensive tackles Landon Bradley and Lamar Milstead, both of whom are true freshmen.
Today, three walk-ons would be starters
If the season began today, U.Va.'s starters would include three players who joined the program as walk-ons: Copper, safety Byron Glaspy and wideout Staton Jobe. Copper and Glaspy have since been awarded scholarships.
Jobe is a 6-0, 181-pound redshirt freshman from Austin, Texas.
"He's playing as well as anybody right now, and that's all that matters to us," Groh said. - Jeff White
'Cat alumni reunite as Cavaliers
Clark's dreams bigger than football; Jarvis makes most of opportunity
By Blair J. Parker/staff
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Many players who compete in football at the NCAA Division I-A level have dreams of making the leap from playing on Saturdays to competing on the largest stage in the NFL.
University of Virginia linebacker Aaron Clark is no different, but it's his backup plan that sets him apart from his peers. When he graduates from U.Va. in 2009, he doesn't want to become a doctor, lawyer or anything in the sports field. The one career that the former Rockbridge County High School star can picture himself doing for years to come is working in government — in the Central intelligence Agency.
"I've just always had an interest in investigating and I've always wanted to help solve crimes, and I can't think of a better place," Clark said. "Of course, if I can play at the next level, I am going to do it, but I don't want to have that be my only plan in life."
Working for an agency like the CIA has more similarities with football than one would think. In football, the objective is to be tougher, quicker and smarter than the opponent to gain the advantage, and a player does that by eating properly, working out, studying film and practicing. The CIA isn't that different. The individual details are different, but the basics remain the same. The primary mission is to identify the issue, study it and use the knowledge gained to correct the problem.
"I like that you have to think and think a lot with both things. I've never been in the CIA, so I can't speak from firsthand knowledge about that, but I know in football, thinking about the game plan and what needs to be done is vital and I'm sure the same goes for the CIA," Clark said.
But Clark's postgraduate work is still two years away and he says he is 100 percent focused on the continued improvement at his position and in the team's defensive scheme, as well as making a real impact with the Cavaliers this season.
"This is going to be my third year and I think I've gotten better each year, but I really want to make that leap this year and do anything I can to help us win games," Clark said.
Clark comes into the season at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, 20 pounds heavier than when he first set foot in Virginia's training facility. He attributes his weight gain to great training from the strength coach and a solid nutrition program.
"I feel like I'm the strongest I've ever been and in the best condition I can possibly be in at this point in the season," Clark said. "I think the extra work I've put in is really going to make a difference once I get on the field in real game situations."
Last season Clark appeared in eight games and saw most of his playing time on the kickoff return and punts team, but this season he's looking to compete for more playing time at outside linebacker. Heading into camp he was second on the depth chart behind senior Jermaine Dias, and should see increased playing time.
Clark will have many teammates in the Cavs locker room to look to for encouragement and help throughout the season, but none more familiar than his former Rockbridge County teammate Brandon Jarvis.
Jarvis, a 5-foot-9, 183 pound junior cornerback, joined Virginia in 2006 as a walk-on and is back for another season for the blue and orange.
"I'm real excited and just ready to go," Jarvis said. "I'm looking forward to the excitement of that first game on Sept. 1 when we go to Wyoming. In the locker room, all the guys are really excited about the brand new season and the fresh start."
Last season, Jarvis got work in solely at cornerback, but this season defensive backs coach Steve Bernstein decided to expand his role on the team and give him reps at safety as well. The added responsibility is something Jarvis relishes.
"I'm trying to do the best I can and do whatever the coaches ask me to do to help out the team in whatever role they want me to play," Jarvis said. "Right now I'm working in at corner and safety, but learning the safety position isn't a lot different. I'm looking forward to any position they want me to play. I'll be happy to play it."
Although Jarvis is living his dream of playing college football, his journey in the sport is far from over. When he graduates, he wants to return to place where it all started — the high school ranks. The decision to bring his football career full circle is a direct result of the influence high school coach Billy Mills had on him.
"I just have really taken to this game, played a long time and really would love to give back to other players, just like my coach (Mills) did for me," Jarvis said. "I think in football, especially high school football, you learn a lot of different things. You learn to work together and you get more than football skills. You learn leadership skills and how to work together as a team."
The two Rockbridge County alumni have come a long way from playing on Friday nights in front of the Wildcat faithful, and now they are writing this chapter in their football lives at Virginia.
Ineligible linebacker Hall transfers to Kansas State
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 20, 2007
On several occasions, Al Groh admitted he was a big fan of Olu Hall.
Apparently, Virginia’s football coach thought enough of the outside linebacker to steer him to one of his closest friends.
On Monday, Virginia announced that Hall intends to transfer to Kansas State, where former UVa offensive coordinator Ron Prince is the head coach.
After sitting out this year at KSU, Hall will have two years of eligibility.
Hall, the state’s No. 1 recruit in 2003, had reasons to look elsewhere.
On Thursday, Groh said that Hall had been deemed ineligible to play this season by the NCAA, despite remaining in good standing with UVa.
The puzzling ruling came after Hall sat out the 2006 season to focus on academics.
Hall’s departure concludes a career that was delayed by a one-year stop at Hargrave Military Academy in ’04. After arriving the following year, Hall had a lackluster season. Despite seeing action in eight games, he was credited with only one stop during 94 plays.
Even after the ruling, Groh praised Hall for his commitment at Virginia.
“He has just been so easy to root for, he has put so much into this,” Groh said. “I think I said it this way last week, ‘We just want to see something positive happen for him.’
“Whatever plan we are able to put in place for Olu will be with that in mind. That is to see what we can do to give him a chance to really have some fun and get that degree that is so important to his future.”
Copper has worked his way to top
By Jerry Ratcliffe / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7251
August 21, 2007
There’s nothing ordinary about Jon Copper’s path to success other than hard work and dedication.
He came to Virginia as a walk-on, having matured under the tutelage of respected coaches Jim Hickam (Northside-Roanoke) and John Shuman (Fork Union Military Academy). He worked his way onto the special teams after red-shirting for a season, then worked his way into a starting inside linebacker’s job last year as a sophomore. He proposed to girlfriend, Holly Dixon, the Thursday before the Cavaliers’ win over N.C. State last fall.
A man of faith, Copper can recite Bible verses as easily as he can deliver a scouting report on upcoming opponent Wyoming’s offensive formations.
A special group
No wonder we can detect a twinkle in coach Al Groh’s eyes anytime his linebacker situation is brought up in conversation.
One of Groh’s favorite phrases about the maturation process of players is that usually by the third year of playing time, they’re hitting their stride, ready to make a significant impact. Three of UVa’s four starting ’backers are juniors (Copper, fellow inside linebacker Antonio Appleby, and Clint Sintim on the outside). The fourth, Jermaine Dias (also outside) is a senior.
“Those four guys really know how to take care of their business and they’re a pleasure to deal with,” Groh said of the unit. “What they’re given in terms of instructional nature quickly shows up in performance.”
The ‘it’ factor
Groh’s linebackers “get it.” They understand football, they study the game. They work well as a group, all facts that should show themselves from the outset this season.
Copper is a perfect example of the group. No one prepares harder. No one is more conscientious. It’s not unusual, when the McCue Center is empty, to find Copper there studying game film.
His meticulous preparation has been both a blessing and even somewhat of a curse. He has been so studious at times that when a situation required instant recognition and reaction, he was overloaded with analysis.
Groh has tried to rewire Copper’s brain with simplicity for this coming season.
“We’ve told him to use that preparation, but to use his instincts,” Groh said.
A little fine-tuning
Copper admitted that has been one of his chief points of focus in training camp.
“When I try to figure out what the play is, that sometimes slows me down, so coach Groh has emphasized trusting my instincts, reading the key and when the play starts, to get on the move and go from there,” Copper said. “There’s been an improvement on that.”
Even though he led Virginia’s defense in tackles last season with 81 (13th among all ACC players) and in plays with 785, Copper knew that he still had a lot to learn and has made significant strides in those areas.
“I made a lot of mistakes last year,” said Ironman Copper. “There were games where if, I had done better, there might have been a different outcome. I think I had a decent year, which was encouraging, but I’m looking to improve like everyone else out there.”
When he came to Charlottesville with no scholarship after a year of post-grad football at nearby Fork Union, Copper was just trying to survive. He couldn’t help but notice the work habits of former UVa tight end Heath Miller, who went on to become the best in the nation at his position and a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Copper figured it would be a pretty smart thing to Xerox those habits and take it from there. He noticed how Miller worked every day toward improving, not only on the field but studying the playbook, film study, analyzing his own game, dissecting the upcoming opponent.
Groh said that Copper has moved his game forward in training camp and that the two inside guys, Copper and Appleby, are totally in sync with one another.
“Those two inside communicate well, respond and see things the same way,” the coach said. “Their talent and personalities mesh very well. Both are very detailed in preparation.”
Copper has attempted to become more decisive after estimating he missed about a dozen tackles last season when he hesitated. That’s part of the growing-up process for a player, the kind of mistakes that should disappear this time around.
“I’ve learned a lot this camp,” he said. “I’ve picked up on a lot of stuff, kind of like watching a movie or reading a book for the third or fourth time. There are different keys that can help to know whether it’s a run or a pass.”
Another point of emphasis for this camp for Copper and all the linebackers has been pass coverage, something that could make a defense that returns almost intact from a No. 17 ranking nationally in in total defense, even better.
So could creating more turnovers. The Cavaliers benefited from only 17 of those last season (10 intercepted passes, seven recovered fumbles), a number that Groh would like to see at least double this campaign.
“If you look at defenses that rank in the top four or five, they’re the ones that win games for their team by creating turnovers,” Copper said. “Any good defense can stop the run. Any good defense can defend the long ball. But a great defense is the one that can get the ball for their team and score points.”
Thanks to more depth at the four linebacker spots, he may not be required to deliver the same ironman performances of a year ago, although he’s ready to go the distance if needed.
His wife, Holly, might actually get to spend a little more time with him once the season gets underway. They usually have about an hour of quality time together during training camp.
Being a student, a football player and a husband might be too much for most guys, but not Jon Copper. We told you he wasn’t ordinary.
Virginia eyeing 36-36 season
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 21, 2007
Mike London can break it down in simple terms.
As Virginia’s defensive coordinator pointed out, every yard counts.
“This year’s emphasis is try to score on defense, create turnovers, sack the quarterback and also limit points,” London said on Sunday.
Virginia coach Al Groh took it a step further, laying out two identical numbers that his defense is focused on. For the second straight year, Groh challenged his defense to register 36 sacks and force 36 turnovers during the regular season.
On paper, the feat looks unattainable.
In fact, only 21 teams in the country last year registered at least 36 sacks, and 20 of those teams played at least 13 games. In the ACC, a league considered strong on defense in 2006, only Georgia Tech reached the mark and it didn’t get No. 36 until the Gator Bowl.
Virginia was closer than many of its ACC counterparts - the Cavaliers had 30 sacks, averaging 2.5 per game.
The biggest obstacle looming to reach the 36-36 club clearly lies with the turnover total sought by Groh. Credit the coach for shooting for the moon, but only two teams in the country, Boston College and Nevada, achieved the feat last year and both did so during a 13-game season.
Regardless of the odds, don’t call it impossible - at least not around London.
“It is a high number, but if you’re going to try and be good, you might as well strive for goals that are out there,” London said. “If you go back and you look at some of the defenses that did pretty well, then you can look in the column in terms of turnovers, quarterback sacks [and] most of those teams have been successful if they were able to achieve that.”
There are major factors - better yet, four factors - that lead Groh to believe the challenge can be accomplished. Two, Jermaine Dias and Clint Sintim, stand on the outside. The other pair, Antonio Appleby and Jon Copper, spearheads the Cavaliers’ 3-4 defense from the middle of the gridiron.
Together, they give Virginia one of the most experienced groups of linebackers in the country.
“It is probably difficult for most coaches to get giddy, maybe not until they hand you the trophy, but with those four guys there, it is a very positive situation,” Groh said. “Each one, even more so the four of them collectively, they really know how to take care of their business.
“They are a pleasure to deal with in an ongoing basis. What they are given of an instructional nature shows up in performance. They are high-effort players. They are really competitive, bright guys. It is a very positive position for us.”
The outlook was obviously not as great entering the season last year.
Appleby was essentially learning on the job, having started only two previous games.
Copper, a former walk-on, had logged only 132 plays and was only three years removed from a spot on the post-grad team at Fork Union.
Dias was considered an injury-prone player after suffering setbacks during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Sintim, easily the star of the bunch, had to prove he could play alongside a group of linebackers that did not include Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham.
The postseason reviews were mixed, if not positive, for a unit that had little help off the bench.
“What happened last year was last year,” Appleby said. “We are just trying to focus on this year and do the best we can.”
What that translates into remains to be seen, but with the experience that was gained, a great level of pressure to perform follows.
“It is amazing because a lot is going to be on our shoulders this year and we welcome the challenge,” Dias said. “It is good to have high regards for yourself and I think we are up to the challenge.”
Appleby added: “We plan on being a lot more aggressive, if not scheme-wise then individually. All four of us played a lot of football last year and some of us played a lot the year before that. We look forward to playing real fast in our system, and we know what to do, so it is not just about playing fast.”
As good as the group can be, it is not perfect. Groh reminds the players of that.
“If you ask them, they would probably tell you that I haven’t had any trouble finding some [mistakes],” he joked.
“But that is what they want. Now, they are to the point with their career, that’s the way that they want to be coached.
“They can see the opportunity to be very, very good at what they are doing and they are looking for very precise, detailed, meticulous direction.”
They are also looking for 36 and 36.
UVA FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Linebackers
By Jay Jenkins / firstname.lastname@example.org
August 21, 2007
The start mirrored the finish.
Remarkably, the four linebackers that opened the 2006 season as starters managed to spend the entire season clinging to that tag.
Combining for 2,777 snaps and 242 tackles, Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper, Jermaine Dias and Clint Sintim were mainstays for linebacker-loving coach Al Groh.
All four played well at times, even great in spurts, but there were other factors.
The four remained healthy enough (or played through enough pain) to ensure that they remained with the first-team defense during a 12-game season. Credit roster management, too - many of their would-be replacements used the year for learning in practice as redshirted players or in the classroom, as was the case for outside linebacker Olu Hall.
With essentially unlimited playing time, the foursome progressed in their recognition of offensive schemes and accounted for 10 of Virginia’s 30 sacks (the Cavaliers ranked 31st in the nation in that category), but a handful of those big plays came against either Duke or Wyoming.
* The Cavaliers will be forced to play without Hall. Deemed ineligible by the NCAA, Hall elected to transfer to Kansas State, where he will play for former Virginia assistant Ron Prince. After sitting out this season, Hall will have two years of eligibility remaining.
* Knowing that playing time would be scarce and that he would graduate in May, former outside linebacker Marvin Richardson elected to move on. He did not participate in spring practice, but the effect of the loss is minimal. Richardson had only three tackles last year.
* With a glaring need for a bruising fullback out of the backfield, Groh ended the Rashawn Jackson experiment at linebacker. It seems highly unlikely that Jackson, a redshirt freshman, will ever surface again at linebacker.
Grab a calculator.
After a season of ironman football, the Cavaliers suddenly boast numbers at linebacker.
Sintim even joked after the first practice that the team had “about 20 guys” at the spot.
With that depth in mind, Copper even admitted he welcomed some additional rest, a desire that is limited strictly to practice reps.
Regardless, Virginia is suddenly sitting pretty at linebacker.
Should the Cavs desire a speedy collection, well, they have tons of it. If power is desired for a short-yardage situation, players are now in place to assist in that venture.
More importantly, the Cavaliers have cohesion at linebacker.
“What they do, they’re in conjunction with the safeties, and they are also responsible for getting the front lined up,” said Virginia defensive coordinator Mike London. “It is critical that they be an integral part in what we are trying to get accomplished, and I think the linebackers that we have with Jon Copper and Antonio Appleby and the guys on the outside, Jermaine Dias and Clint Sintim, are guys that have played together and have a bunch of experience.
“I think even from the standpoint of communication, reaction and production that we’ll get better.”
* NFL scouts will be watching Sintim with the expectations that the junior is primed for an All-ACC-caliber season.
Of course, many expected that type of success a year ago. Nagging injuries took their toll on the outside linebacker, limiting his production to 45 tackles (he had 53 as a redshirt freshman in ’05).
Sintim limped, physically and mentally, to the end of the season - he had only five solo tackles during the second half of the season.
Claiming to be healthier than ever, Sintim enjoyed his best spring as a Cavalier - he even won the Rock Weir Award for defense - and wants to leave a lasting impression, one that could create an issue in regards to the NFL or UVa for 2008.
“One of the good things about Clint … he’s very intrigued by all facets of the job,” Groh said. “If he has got to walk out on a receiver and re-route him, he’s very challenged by that, as much so as he is getting to the quarterback. That’s why he’s such a good fit [at outside linebacker].”
* Without question, Dias enjoyed his best campaign as a Cavalier a year ago.
The stats proved that - the outside linebacker had a career-best 48 tackles, a pair of sacks and caused two fumbles.
The main thing, Dias said, was just being able to play. After opening his sophomore season as a starter, Dias suffered a foot injury against Duke and missed significant time.
“Injuries are just part of the game,” Dias said. “You have to take the good with the bad, but with that playing time I was able to see myself on film and what strides I could make. Being on the field was a definite plus.”
* Few realized the importance of the move when it occurred. With former linebacker Ahmad Brooks missing in action, Appleby was given his first career start in 2005 at Miami.
At that point, the true freshman said he was “very inexperienced, kind of wide-eyed and not really exposed to too much football.”
That was then. Coming off the heels of a 68-tackle season, much is expected of Appleby.
“I have seen a lot of plays in my freshman and sophomore years so I feel a lot more comfortable,” Appleby said. “I can just play ball.”
Appleby realizes his time at Virginia is at a critical stage.
“My career here is winding down, so I am ready to hit it hard here for these last two years,” he said.
* Going from walk-on to standout and later to married man, Copper is the team’s poster child of “Average Joe.”
Copper, who will turn 23 the day of the first home game, has truly made the most of his time at Virginia. Credit his insane work ethic, which includes studying film at odd hours (even on the eve of games).
After working his way up the depth chart, Copper was on the field last year for almost 800 plays. He led the team in tackles (81) and registered four sacks.
Copper said he would not rest on those laurels.
“My mindset for camp is to improve on my coverage skills, and I think that is the same [goal] for the other three starting linebackers,” he said. “That’s what we’re emphasizing as a group.
“To get in the game, you’ve got to stop the run, but to set yourself apart, you’ve got to be able to defend the pass.”
It may take some strong-willed coaches and a strategic plan, but look for the reserve linebackers to give the four starters time off.
On the inside, John Bivens and Darnell Carter appear poised to play an important role after redshirting last year.
Bivens, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 233 pounds, is blessed with great speed, which makes him an option on the nickel and dime packages - and perhaps other spots.
“He is kinda of all over the place,” London said. “He is a guy that can run; obviously, you want to utilize a guy’s speed, athleticism in that third-down package.
“He is going to be a part of it because we like some of the things that he provides the defense.”
* Carter, who is a powerful complement to Bivens, has drawn positive reviews early on in training camp. One of the most obvious talents involves his ability to tackle, something that was somewhat unknown until camp.
“Really, because he did so much show work last fall, he would show up in the hole working against the varsity but we weren’t tackling,” Groh said. “This is probably the most extensive time now that we are getting to see him.”
* The loss of Hall on the outside directly benefited junior Aaron Clark, redshirt freshman John-Kevin Dolce and true freshman Jared Detrick.
Clark, who has never grown into a spot on the defensive line, could have benefited from a redshirt season last year. Instead, he played on special teams, failing to record a tackle. After a bout with “mono-like symptoms,” Clark has returned to practice and turned heads.
“I see Aaron Clark’s role as being a guy that is going to be a backup,” London said. “[Clark] is going to provide depth, get a chance to get Clint or Jermaine out of the game. He has gotten bigger. He has gotten stronger.
“A.C., as we call him, is going to benefit from the fact that he is a proven guy, in terms of being around the defense and knowing what is going on with us.”
* Dolce, a self-proclaimed “freak” in the weight room, has made a strong push for a greater role of late.
“I think he has made some progress in some particular areas that have been encouraging to us,” Groh said last week. “He is just one of the players here who was a defensive-down end and therefore is really starting all over at the spot.
“Now, he is starting to pick it up some.”
Dolce would love to earn a spot on the nickel defense but remains content with any role that best serves the team.
“I want to make my impact, hopefully, wherever I can for the team, whether that is on special teams or if I get into the game on defense,” Dolce said. “I just want to do anything I can to help the team.”
* Detrick, a three-star recruit from Newport News, may be in a small group of true freshmen that see the field this season.
“He has got a lot of energy and he is one of those players who is acting like he came to play rather than having a look at it and thinking, ‘Maybe, I will wait until next year,’” Groh said. “He is just another player that we want to give a little bit more foundation and a little bit more groundwork in what we are doing than some of the other [true freshmen]. He seems ready to respond to that.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that he, at current necessarily, is just zooming up the charts, but he does look like a player that, ‘Hey, maybe he can earn a spot.’ We are certainly not diminishing that. We have encouraged all the young players during this timeframe to try to get some playing time. If you turn out to be better, you will make the team better and if somebody who has the time right now can hold you off, you made him better. The entire process makes the team better and creates an attitude that … you need to compete for playing time whether you are a player established in a position or desiring one.”
* Denzel Burrell, an outside linebacker, emerged last year as a contributor on the nickel defense and on special teams early in the season.
His season, however, took a hit when he tore his ACL in the second game.
The taste of playing time, Burrell said, was priceless and helped motivate him during his rehab.
“It really left me with the sense of wanting to get back into the game,” Burrell said. “It left me so hungry, but really getting on the field helped me realize what the game meant to me, even if I didn’t get much time.
“I was there rehabbing five or six days a week and I feel real great right now. I feel pretty much like I am at 100 percent. It has been 10 months or so, I would say, and I feel like it has been a full recovery.”
* J’Courtney Williams, considered by many as the best player in Virginia’s recruiting class, could be the inside linebacker of the future. It may take time. Williams, a safety in high school, broke a bone in his shoulder and was rumored to have had surgery to repair that injury on Monday. Expect to hear his name a lot in the spring.
The same may be said at that time, if not sooner, in regards to Terrence Fells-Danzer and Aaron Taliaferro.
The Cali Kid
San Diego native Childs fun-loving but also serious on the football field
By Whitelaw Reid / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 21, 2007
He hails from San Diego, loves tacos and is a big fan of obscure West Coast hip-hop.
Is it really any surprise what Virginia linebacker Darren Child’s nickname is?
“That’s ‘Cali,’” explained fellow UVa linebacker Clint Sintim. “His name’s not Darren. It’s Cali. Nobody calls him Darren.”
Most Cavs fans probably wouldn’t be able to put any name with the 6-foot-1, 244-pound linebacker who wears No. 49.
Childs redshirted in 2005, then appeared in just two games last season.
The former standout at Mission Bay High in San Diego says making the adjustment to college has been tougher than he thought.
“In high school, you’re the show pony, but then when you go to college everybody is the show pony,” Childs said. “They’re either better than you or just as good as you, so you just have to rise to the competition and keep working hard.”
Coming out of Mission Bay, Childs was all set to attend the University of Utah - until coach Urban Meyer bolted for Florida.
Childs wound up choosing Virginia over Maryland and N.C. State.
Childs, whose high school was located about a mile from the Pacific Ocean, misses certain things about his hometown - namely the weather and great Mexican food. However, Childs - who has family in Louisa - is glad he decided to come east.
“A lot of West Coast schools were on me, but I really wanted to leave the West Coast and experience the East Coast,” Childs said. “I just wanted something different and knew it wouldn’t be that hard of a transition because of family here. I just thought California was too much trouble - too many distractions and I couldn’t focus out there.”
As a kid, Childs says he saw many family members and friends make the wrong choices. He says his mother, Susie, wouldn’t let him play Pop Warner because of negative influences within their local association.
“A lot of my cousins were gang members, and I saw the road that I didn’t want to go down,” Childs said. “Nowadays, I look back and I see a lot of my friends - they’re either locked up or they’re dead. They got shot in gang wars.”
Luckily, Childs had parents to help keep him on the straight and narrow. Childs’ father, also named Darren, is a former Marine.
“He taught me a lot about the masculine side of life - how to provide for my family and how to be a man,” said Childs, whose father now works as a counselor for troubled youths in downtown San Diego. “He’s definitely been there for me.”
Despite only appearing in two games last season, Childs - who plays inside linebacker - says he learned a lot.
“The ‘MIKE’ position is a hard position for anybody to learn,” Childs said, “but by the end of the year it really started making sense to me. I think I definitely came a long way.”
What Childs seems to have going for him is a strong work ethic - and an affable personality.
“He’s a funny guy, he’s always joking - and he’s a hard worker,” Sintim said. “You can just tell that he wants to get better and become a big part of our defense.
“He’s always asking [linebacker] Antonio [Appleby] questions about how to be better. He’s definitely on the up. He’s working hard and getting better every day.”
Currently, Childs is trying to earn a spot on one of Virginia’s special teams units. He figures if he can make a mark there, he may eventually be able to work his way into the defensive lineup.
“I’m out here working hard,” Childs said, “but we need to do it as a team. It’s not really important how much I play. I’m trying to work as hard as I can and get on the field if possible. But if not, we just need to win. That’s what’s most important.”