Redshirts to give Cavs depth
By Jay Jenkins / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
August 28, 2007
The youth movement has arrived - at least on paper.
On Monday, Virginia released its two-deep for Saturday's season opener at Wyoming (2 p.m., VERSUS). That depth chart includes 10 redshirt freshmen, but UVa coach Al Groh preached patience Monday evening during his first call-in show of the season.
"Just because a player was held out last year and redshirted doesn't mean that he is ready this year," Groh said. "Players get ready at different rates."
Nine of the 10 redshirt freshmen are penciled in as reserves behind veteran players. Only wide receiver Staton Jobe appears to have secured a starting spot.
Those 10 players have some company - three true freshmen played their way onto the depth chart during training camp. Long snapper Danny Aiken, wide receiver Dontrelle Inman and quarterback Peter Lalich made their "two-deep" debuts.
While Aiken is considered a lock for instant playing time, Inman is listed behind Jobe at one of the wideout spots and Lalich appears tied with junior Scott Deke in a race to become the program's No. 2 signal-caller.
Outside of the new additions, the first- and second-teams on offense and defense offered few surprises. The two most notable were the inclusion of inside linebacker Bernie McKeever, a junior, and right tackle Isaac Cain, who walked-on to the team last year and redshirted. Both were listed as reserves.
Groh also took the time on his weekly show to address the options that Virginia has at running back - Cedric Peerman, Andrew Pearman and Keith Payne were listed No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on the depth chart.
The trio, the coach said, gives Virginia three different styles.
"With our running backs, it is kind of like going to the grocery shelf: we have small, medium and large," Groh chuckled. "In Andrew Pearman we have small, in Cedric we have medium, for sure, and in Keith we have quite large."
Pearman is listed at 168 pounds, 40 pounds lighter than Peerman. Payne, a redshirt freshman, tipped the scales at 234 pounds.
EDGE AT CORNER
Another Ronde Barber? Cavaliers' junior CHRIS COOK shows promise
Tuesday, Aug 28, 2007 - 12:15 AM Updated: 01:08 AM
By JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
CHARLOTTESVILLE Matt Balis qualifies as an authority on
University of Florida football, having spent the 2005 and '06 seasons with the
Balis is the new strength-and-conditioning coach for football at the University of Virginia. From top to bottom, U.Va. can't match Florida's off-the-charts speed and athleticism -- how many teams can? -- but Balis says several Cavaliers are more than talented enough to play leading roles in Gainesville.
That group includes Chris Cook, a 6-2, 201-pound junior from Lynchburg who, with apologies to Marcus Hamilton, may turn out to be the best cornerback to play at Virginia since Ronde Barber.
"At this level or other levels, there are not too many corners of that size who also have the physical skills to play [the position well]," said U.Va. coach Al Groh, who spent more than a decade as a defensive assistant in the NFL.
Cook, 20, enters the season with 12 career starts. His total would be higher had he not missed the second half of the 2005 season with a broken leg. Cook was only a true freshman when, in his first start, he got hurt at Boston College.
By the start of last season, Cook was back at full speed. Hamilton picked off five passes and, for the second straight season, was named to the all-ACC second team in 2006. Cook led the Cavaliers' defensive backs with 58 tackles. He had one interception, caused a fumble and broke up five passes.
"I should have had more interceptions than I did, but I just didn't jump on those opportunities when I had the chance," said Cook, one of 10 returning starters on defense for U.Va., which opens the season Saturday afternoon at Wyoming.
Among U.Va. coaches, there is no higher praise than to say a player "gets it." Cook "gets it," according to defensive coordinator Mike London.
"Chris is one of those guys that kind of came in a little brash and cocky, but as he has gotten older and taken the role as a team leader, Chris has really matured," London said. "He's grown up, he's matured. He's not done yet, but it's very gratifying to see."
After a recent practice, Cook said he'd like to earn all-ACC honors, but that's an obsession. His goal is simply "to be the best out here and the best everywhere I go," he said. "I don't want to be overhyped or anything. I just want to be the best."
Despite his size and speed, Cook wasn't highly recruited out of Heritage High, where he played corner, running back and wide receiver. The first school to offer him a scholarship was Virginia Tech, but the Hokies' interest later waned.
"They didn't keep in contact," Cook said. "Then U.Va. came along, and I jumped on that opportunity."
While Cook was starring at Heritage, a phenom named Vicqual Hall was shattering records as a quarterback down Route 29 at Gretna High. When Cook and Hall were 11th-graders, they learned they were cousins. Now they're the starting cornerbacks at U.Va.
"It's cool," Cook said. "We live together, too, in the same apartment. We always talk about routes and coverages, and we sit beside each other in meetings and talk about things that go on on and off the field."
Hall, a redshirt sophomore, is heading into his first start as a Cavalier.
"He's a gamer," Cook said. "I'm not worried about him. He can handle himself. He's shown he can make plays. He's not nervous anymore."
Raw but ready, U.Va. receivers aim to fill the gap
By ED MILLER, The Virginian-Pilot
© August 28, 2007
Virginia's wide receivers come in three types this year.
There are the tall, rangy players, like 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior Maurice Covington and 6-3, 185-pound true freshman Dontrelle Inman.
There are the smaller, quick players, like redshirt freshman Staton Jobe, listed at 6-0 and 181, and Tulane transfer Cary Koch, 6-0 and 194.
Then there are the straight-ahead burners, like Chris Dalton, a redshirt freshman acknowledged as the fastest player on the team, and Jared Green, the son of former Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, once the fastest man in the NFL.
No matter their type, all the receivers have at least one thing in common: None has ever started a game at Virginia.
The position is the biggest question mark on the team, but that's nothing new. It was last year as well, when leading receiver Deyon Williams suffered a stress fracture in his foot at the start of preseason practice.
With Williams out, Kevin Ogletree emerged as the team's go-to receiver, catching 52 passes, third-most in the ACC. But Ogletree tore a knee ligament in spring practice and is expected to miss the entire season.
Virginia is looking for someone - more likely several someones - to fill the void. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said it might be unrealistic to ask one receiver to duplicate Ogletree's production.
"I think it'll be a group effort," Groh said.
At the top of the group is Covington, the most experienced receiver on the team, with two years and 11 catches in the system. He has been vocal about filling the gap left by Ogletree.
Although he doesn't have Ogletree's speed, he does have a 37-inch vertical jump to go with his 6-4 frame.
Stamina was an issue with Covington in the past, but not any longer.
"He can run all day long now," Groh said. "And he certainly is imposing at 6-4 and 215 with that 37-inch vertical. We feel like we've got a size mismatch against a lot of people."
Covington will the start the season at one receiver position. The other position is wide open, with Jobe, Inman and Koch competing throughout camp.
At the moment, Jobe has the edge, head coach Al Groh said.
"He's playing as well as anybody right now," Groh said.
Jobe joined the team as a recruited walk-on last season. He was a three-time district champion in the 100 meters in high school in Austin, Texas.
Jobe is a little faster than Koch, who caught 23 passes at Tulane as a freshman in 2005 but had just one catch during an injury-riddled season at Virginia last year.
Inman has been the surprise of camp. Rated the No. 19 high school player in South Carolina last year, he was not as heavily recruited as he might have been had he not missed most of his senior season with a knee injury.
Inman will play this season, Al Groh said. At the moment, he's backing up Jobe.
"He's a natural catcher," Groh said. "He goes and gets it. He plays like the ball belongs to him."
Dalton backs up Covington; Green could redshirt. Senior Chris Gorham, a converted cornerback, will add depth.
Virginia's tight ends will provide other pass-catching options and should take some of the pressure off the wideouts. Tom Santi has 61 career catches and Jonathan Stupar has 40. A third tight end, John Phillips, has looked good in practice.
"We've got three tight ends that most people in the country would like to have," Mike Groh said. "It certainly behooves us to find a lot of different ways to get all three guys touches."
The receivers have no such reputation. As a group, they're more "Who's He?" than "Who's Who."
Covington, the group's unofficial spokesman, said he understands why people have doubts. But Ogletree emerged from the pack last year - and Covington predicts this group will, too.
"We were brought in here to catch balls and make plays," he said, "and that's what we're going to do."
New UVa strength coach draws praise
Matt Balis has quickly impressed the Virginia players since taking over in the spring.
By Doug Doughty
A trip to Florida in summer 2006 gave Virginia football coach Al Groh an early look at last season's national champions, but that wasn't all.
It also gave Virginia a lead on a new strength coach -- not that the Cavaliers were looking for one.
Virginia had an established strength coach at the time of Groh's visit to Gainesville, Fla. Too established, as it turns out.
After four seasons as Virginia's head strength coach, Evan Marcus was introduced Jan. 16 as the Atlanta Falcons head strength and conditioning coach.
It would be one change in philosophy and three months before Virginia filled the vacancy, but newcomer Matt Balis has received nothing but favorable reviews.
Ed Nordenschild, who previously had supervised UVa's Olympic sports, was put in charge of the weight room and asked to coordinate training for all of the Cavaliers' athletic programs. Balis was brought in to supervise football -- the first time that his job and Nordenschild's had been separate.
Balis was the assistant director of strength coaching at Florida from 2005-06, coming over with Gators coach Urban Meyer after working for him at Utah.
"While we were at Florida, their players worked out in the weight room," Groh said. "Matt probably didn't know we were watching, but we had a chance to observe him at that particular time.
"I think he became aware of our position and had Urban Meyer call for him. We respect greatly what Urban has done and we also have a good philosophical alliance with their program.
"If [Meyer] could speak up for him the way he did, that was a good indication that he would be a good fit here."
Nordenschild helped guide UVa's football team through its winter conditioning workouts, but some nervousness was understandable when the Cavaliers reached the end of spring practice without a permanent strength coach.
It didn't take long for Balis to make an impact.
"He pushes us," junior linebacker Clint Sintim said. "Not to say that coach Evan Marcus didn't, but [Balis] pushes us in ways that I don't think a lot of the guys had ever been pushed before. It's always, 'Give me one more.'
"Not too long ago, we came out here [to Scott Stadium] and ran up and down all these steps. All 32 steps. That's something we'd never done before. He's been a champion. He wants to make champions out of us."
Said senior defensive back Nate Lyles: "We like this guy."
Guard Branden Albert said that Marcus and Balis both emphasize powerlifting but use different approaches. Tailback Cedric Peerman, for one, has become more flexible, though that program was in the planning stages before Marcus left.
"I didn't know him," Balis said of Marcus. "I knew of him. He was one of those big-time strength coaches who've had a lot of success. I did speak to him one time. He did a great job here. It was a very easy transition."
Several of the UVa players spoke of lowering their percentage of body fat to new levels.
"Everywhere I've been, you find out what the body fats are and try to set realistic levels for guys," Balis said. "Whatever you're doing is going to have a different reflection on your body fat. You have to train for speed, but that's just one component.
"The biggest goal as a strength coach is, you want your players to play tough."
Balis coached high school football after his graduation from Northern Illinois but he was a competitive weightlifter who has "always had a passion for the iron game," he said.
In 2004-05, he was the head strength coach at Utah, where the football team was 12-0 in Meyer's last season.
"There are very few people in any organization that deal with every player on the team," Groh said. "Obviously, the head coach does, the trainer does, the equipment manager does and the head strength coach does. We see that as an extraordinarily important position.
"Evan did a fine job for us. The players were very confident in how they had them prepared, but there was a concern if [the weight program] would stay at that level or hopefully progress. It looks as if we've been able to progress at even a higher level."
Wyoming QB understands commitment
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com
August 27, 2007
Imagine the pressure that a 19-year-old quarterback faces preparing for his first start.
Wyoming quarterback Karsten Sween, who landed the team’s highest-profile job midway through last season, can laugh that off.
Pressure, as Sween can attest, is preparing for a wedding at the end of freshman year.
Yes, Sween, now 20, is a married man.
“I got engaged right out of high school and my wife, Alexandria, she came up here with me to Wyoming,” said the native Californian. “We were engaged for a year and then we got married - so I have been happily married for a little over a year now.”
Sween, now a third-year sophomore, has heard all the jokes from his teammates.
“We certainly give him a hard time about being married,” Wyoming outside linebacker Sean Claffey said. “We have a few guys on the team that are married and we make sure to razz them a little bit.”
Despite the hazing, Sween is at peace with his decision.
“Some of them don’t understand that kind of a commitment that early, but Alex is a wonderful woman, and she is the woman that I wanted to marry,” Sween said. “So I figured there was no reason to wait ... I was lucky enough to get married to her at 18.”
The partnership has its advantages.
“Don’t get me wrong, she is an awesome cook, but the biggest thing is that she is a support to me,” Sween said with a chuckle, fearing the wrath. “She is my biggest cheerleader and support and encouragement through camp. She is a big support group for me, and she is an amazing cook.”
Last year, Sween landed the Cowboys’ starting job after a solid second-half audition against Syracuse in the fifth game of the season.
Sween, who passed for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns, went 5-2 as the starter. The southpaw’s losses came at BYU and TCU, a pair of ranked opponents.
“Last year, he got thrown into the fire four games in and did well for us,” Claffey said. “He led us to five wins, and I expect lot of big things from him, starting this year. He can learn a lot from what happened last year, and the offense is behind him already.
“He is going to have a great career as a Cowboy.”
Sween said the playing experience he gained last year drastically improved his “mental progressions and understanding of the offenses and defenses.”
“Things kind of slow down for you,” the signal-caller said. “I understand our offense so much that it has become second nature and I can focus on defenses. Say for Virginia, I can really focus on their blitzes and the coverages that they like to play and all the fronts.
“That just makes the game slower for me because I can focus on that and not have to worry about the play and the defense.”
Wyoming’s defense has also prepared Sween to face the Cavaliers. Both teams run a base 3-4 defense.
“There are little differences, but for the most part, man, it is pretty close,” Sween said. “We play a 3-4, Virginia plays a 3-4. There are favorite blitzes - our defense favors different things and Virginia favors different things - but facing a 3-4 has helped me out.”
Sween also said Wyoming is hungry. Losing 13-12 in overtime last season in Charlottesville did not sit well.
“Virginia is not one of our rivals, but since it was a heartbreaker last year, it is almost like a rival for us,” Sween said. “We want our revenge, we want to get out there firing and we want to get a win.”
Cavs' Hall Starred at QB; Now He's on the Defensive
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2007; Page E03
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Vic Hall is a cornerback now, which is still difficult to fathom for the thousands who watched him play quarterback in high school. They watched him become a star -- and later, a legend -- at Gretna Senior High, skittering around tacklers and chucking passes as no one ever had in Virginia.
"Vic started for me around 40 games," said Rob Senseney, Hall's high school coach for three seasons. "And he was the best player on the field in all 40."
Better yet, he would be playing his college ball right in his back yard, at Virginia. Hall's fans could watch all 5 feet 9 inches of him mystify defenses for four more seasons.
But during Hall's freshman season, a dearth of cornerbacks, and his size caused Coach Al Groh move Hall from quarterback to cornerback, shifting the most prolific Virginia high school quarterback ever to defense. Now a sophomore, Hall will start at cornerback when the Cavaliers open their season Saturday at Wyoming, having made the transition with ease and, maybe more so, grace.
"Vic Hall is consummate professional as far as the way he approached this whole thing," Virginia defensive coordinator Mike London said. "He's never complained about anything. He just wants the team to win. He'll play anywhere."
It seemed unlikely that Hall would play anything but quarterback. He started from the first day he arrived at Gretna, and no team could solve him for the next four years. Hall rang up 13,770 total yards in his career, which broke the record Ronald Curry set in 1997. Hall's passing marks of 8,731 yards and 104 touchdowns are also Virginia state records.
Still, some followers mocked Hall for playing in Group AA, the second level in Virginia's three-tier system. Once he got to college, they figured, his athleticism would no longer make up for his lack of size. Once, while watching film with Hall, Senseney said to him, "You know, when you get to college, there's going to be a lot of Vic Halls."
"It never bothered him," Senseney said.
By the time he arrived at Virginia, he had become perhaps the most beloved schoolboy athlete the state had seen. His humility won over even opponents. "If I'm ever lucky enough to have a son," Senseney said, "I hope is he's like Vic."
But he won over the state, particularly Virginia fans, by keeping his word. About 15 years earlier, Curry had orally committed to play both football and basketball for the Cavaliers, only to change his mind late and commit to North Carolina. By sticking with Virginia, Hall had seemingly given the state a chance to see what might have been had Curry held his commitment.
That chance never materialized. When Hall first started playing cornerback in 2005, the possibility remained for him to play behind center at one point. But when offensive coordinator Ron Prince, the coach who recruited Hall, became head coach at Kansas State, the move became more permanent.
"If Ron Prince had stayed, who knows what would have happened," Senseney said.
Both Senseney and Chris Cook, Hall's cousin and fellow starting cornerback, felt Hall wanted to play quarterback in college. Hall said he viewed the move without disappointment.
"I was excited," he said.
Senseney, at one point, asked Hall if he considered transferring somewhere he could play quarterback. Each time, Senseney got the sense that Hall seemed almost nonplussed at the notion.
Hall initially struggled with defensive terminology, but the physical side came naturally, "just being a football player," Hall said. Hall would ask Cook, whom he also lives with, questions about small techniques or schemes. The questions would often turn into extended conversations about the Cavaliers' defense. Hall no longer asks Cook anything.
"I trust him," Cook said. "I don't feel like we have a weakness in our defensive backfield."
"Vic has become one of my all-time favorites," London said. "You can put him on any kind of team -- special teams, holder, anything -- he does well at it. He is one of the guys, time after time, practice after practice, that sets the standard."