U.Va. Notes: Decision coming on Soroye
Saturday, Aug 16, 2008 - 12:07 AM Updated: 06:40 AM
Decision coming on Soroye
The departure of Will Harris has left U.Va. men's basketball coach Dave Leitao with 12 scholarship players, one fewer than the NCAA allows. One option for Leitao would be to award it to junior guard Calvin Baker, a walk-on who was the team's fourth-leading scorer last season.
Another would be to give the scholarship to center Tunji Soroye, who was a senior last season but played in only two games because of injuries. Soroye has requested a medical redshirt that would give him another year of eligibility, and he wants to play at Virginia this season. If the 6-11 Nigerian were not put back on scholarship, however, he probably wouldn't be able to afford to stay at U.Va.
U.Va. insiders say Soroye may well get the 13th scholarship. Asked yesterday about Soroye, Leitao said: "We've still got some things we've working through." But he indicated the matter would probably be resolved next week.
Leitao loves the potential of his new big men, freshmen 6-11 John Brandenburg and 7-0 Assane Sene, but said it's a mistake to assume they'll play big minutes this season. "Big guys are a whole different animal," Leitao said. "They take time."
Leitao has commitments from two members of the Class of 2009 -- point guard Jontel Evans and forward Tristan Spurlock. Harris' decision to transfer has opened a spot on Virginia's 2009-10 roster, but Leitao isn't sure if he'll use the scholarship on a Class of 2009 prospect.
"Obviously, I don't want to take just another player," Leitao said. "If it's somebody I think can greatly improve our team, we'll look real hard at it."
Harris, a 6-6, 245-pound forward who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, reportedly is considering Valparaiso, Albany and Marist. He's looking for a program in which he'll play a larger role.
"He's been a wonderful ambassador for the school," Leitao said, "somebody I got along with very well and the [other players] got along with. Good student. It's unfortunate it happened, but I understand where he's coming from."
Playing it cool
Conspicuously absent during the football team's training camp has been the oppressive humidity that typically blankets Charlottesville in August. That's good and bad, coach Al Groh says.
The humid days "probably help as much mentally as they do anything else," Groh said yesterday. "They put us through conditions we know the games are going to be conducted in.
"The other side of it is, this time frame under any circumstances is quite a grind on the players physically, and you're probably able to get a little bit better performance from the players at this stage than if they were worn down by the [weather] as well as the grind."
Gottschalk on leave
Former Deep Run High star Sean Gottschalk, who was expected to contend for a starting job at defensive end, hasn't been practicing with the Cavaliers recently.
Gottschalk, a redshirt sophomore, is "dealing with some personal health issues, which we're going to give him plenty of time to work out," said Groh, who didn't elaborate.
Stokes returns to U.Va.
Ricky Stokes is back at his alma mater, working as a fundraiser for U.Va.'s College of Arts and Sciences.
Stokes, 46, is a 1984 graduate of U.Va., where he was a standout point guard and later an assistant basketball coach. He spent more than two decades in college coaching before leaving East Carolina last August rather than take an administrative position in its athletic department.
Earlier that month, Stokes had unexpectedly stepped down as the Pirates' head coach and been reassigned to the newly created position of associate athletic director for basketball at the Greenville, N.C., school.
In two seasons under Stokes, ECU went 14-44. The Highland Springs High graduate previously had compiled a 46-69 record in four seasons as Virginia Tech's coach. Stokes has a master's from Virginia Commonwealth University.
-- Jeff White
In-state basketball recruiting critical for Tech and Virginia
What’s happening to the Insiders?
By Doug Doughty
Before sitting down to write this week’s column, I wanted to make sure and cast my vote in last week’s “Taking Sides” poll, realizing ahead of time that I would be in the minority for the third straight week.
Brett Favre met the same fate as The Who and Bon Jovi. I had expected that after my daughter called from Greensboro, N.C., last Friday and said she couldn’t believe that 200 people had voted by 6 p.m.
That surprised me, too. I knew that people were really into music, but thought it might have been reaching to ask for opinions about Brett Favre.
Readers supported the Green Bay Packers over Favre by a 63-37 margin. As usual, there were some interesting comments.
Here’s one of the best: “If I told my employer I was quitting and then, three months later, wanted to come back and was told they had already filled my spot, what is the employer supposed to do?”
The most obnoxious: “You suck. Shouldn’t you go back to doing shoe shines in the lobby?”
The most offbeat: “I know it’s not part of the poll but come-on, the Eagles have four guys who can sing better than Tom, and that includes Joe Walsh.”
That was in reference to an e-mail, allegedly from Paul O’Donnell, who suggested that readers be asked to choose between the Eagles and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
I eventually heard back from O’Donnell, who said I must have gotten the Eagles vs. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers e-mail from someone else.
“But now that you’ve got me in the middle of this, maybe your next Music Poll should go local?” O’Donnell wrote. “How about Acoustic Endeavors vs. Blue Mule? Bluegrass vs. New Grass, sort of. I like them both, but I’d vote for Blue Mule.”
I also heard from Michael Murphey, not to be confused with the Michael Martin Murphey, who sang “Wildfire” (not a bad song, IMO). According to wikipedia, that Michael Murphey is recognized as “America’s singing cowboy poet.”
For some reason, I thought it was Michael Martin Murphey who had a guitar ripped from his hands by John Belushi in Animal House. Turns out, that was Stephen Bishop.
But we digress.
Here’s what this Michael Murphey from Wachovia Midrange Operations had to ask: “Why hasn’t Steve Miller gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I think it’s a sham, actually, the RFHF. Seems to be an East Coast bias.”
I’LL BE VERY INTERESTED in the response to this week’s Taking Sides, but first I’ve put in a call to Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Seth Greenberg.
Greenberg’s name came up Thursday, when I called Hampton-based AAU mogul Boo Williams and asked him about Tristan Spurlock, who had committed to Virginia the previous day.
Spurlock, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound perimeter player from Woodbridge, played on Williams’ AAU team with another UVa recruit, Jontel Evans, a point guard from Bethel High School in Hampton.
“I got a call from Seth,” Williams said. “I said, ‘Seth, we still love you.' "
There is no evidence to suggest the Hokies made a major push for Spurlock or Evans, but, clearly, it was a good time for Greenberg to call and reiterate his interest in the Boo Williams program.
Greenberg acknowledged as much when we spoke Friday.
Know how many in-state players were on scholarship at Tech and UVa last season? Tech had one, Lewis Witcher, or two, if you want to count Puerto Rican A.D. Vassallo, who went to high school in Virginia. UVa had Mike Scott and Lithuanian Laurynas Mikalauskas, who also went to high school in Virginia.
You could count Calvin Baker if he were on scholarship, which might be a possibility now that Will Harris has elected to transfer, but Baker has been at Virginia for two years as a walk-on. In any case, neither Tech nor Virginia has set itself up as a school of choice for Virginians.
Williams had some nice things to see about Spurlock but he was particularly complimentary toward Evans, with whom he had to be more familiar, given the area connections. Evans actually does not start at point guard for the Boo Williams all-star team. That distinction goes to Kendrick Marshall, a North Carolina recruit (for 2010) who is from Bishop O’Connell in Arlington.
“Two different type of players but Jontel will do a good job,” Williams said. “You won’t find somebody who plays as hard and as passionate as he does. Not only is he a good defensive player, he can change a game. We were down against Georgia, which has a very good team. We were down by 10 with seven minutes left in the game. [Evans] goes in and four minutes later we’re up 14.”
(By the way, column contributor Allison Doughty, with her vast Northern Virginia basketball connections, predicts that Spurlock ends up at Hylton).
WE PREFACE THIS WEEK’S poll by saying that the UVa and Virginia Tech Insiders that have run on Thursdays during the football and basketball seasons have become an endangered species.
My plan is to write at least one more UVa Insider with an annual rating of the Virginia programs, but sports editor Jeff Gilbert is pushing for a blog format that could include posts by Randy King and me on a more regular basis. While I have enjoyed writing the UVa Insider, I would be fine with the proposed new blogs provided they were easily accessible.
Let us know what you think. (There are no plans to alter Notebook Plus).
Looking ahead in hoops
Aug 15, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE – When the preseason polls for ACC men’s basketball come out this fall, look for U.Va. to be picked last. If the Cavaliers struggled with all-ACC point guard Sean Singletary last season, most prognosticators will argue, how can they reasonably expect to do better without him?
And that’s a legitimate question. But no matter how this season goes for U.Va., 2009-10 promises to be much better. Dave Leitao’s freshmen include two legitimate centers in Assane Sene and John Brandenburg and a McDonald’s All-American in Sylven Landesberg. From the Class of 2009, Leitao has landed two well-regarded recruits—point guard Jontel Evans and 6-8 small forward Tristan Spurlock, who committed this week – and the team’s only seniors this season are Mamadi Diane and Laurynas Mikalauskas. Neither will be irreplaceable.
Assuming no unexpected attrition, here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the 2009-10 Wahoos:
Point guard – Sammy Zeglinski, Jontel Evans, Calvin Baker, Sylven Landesberg
Shooting guard – Landesberg, Jeff Jones, Mustapha Farrakhan, Baker, Solomon Tat
Small forward – Tristan Spurlock, Landesberg, Tat
Power forward – Mike Scott, Jamil Tucker
Center – Assane Sene, John Brandenburg, Jerome Meyinsse
That’s potentially a formidable group, and the only seniors would be Tucker, Baker and Meyinsse, all of whom might be reserves. Also worth nothing: That roster includes only two recruits from the Class of 2009 – Spurlock and Evans. Leitao could add a third now that forward Will Harris’ departure has freed a scholarship.
Calvin Baker, who began his college career at William and Mary, came to U.Va. as a walk-on. Even if he gets a scholarship for 2008-09, Baker could be asked to pay his way again in 2009-10.
Leitao has a lot of seats to fill in John Paul Jones Arena, and the fan base is likely to be restless if Virginia, which went 17-16 in 2007-08, slogs through another season of mediocrity. But better days are coming.
Crunching the numbers
Aug 13, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE – The notion that the U.Va. football team could face a scholarship crunch is enough to make many who follow the program laugh.
They point out – and correctly so – that offseason attrition has been a recurring problem at Virginia during the Al Groh Era and that extra scholarships open unexpectedly almost every year. (See the spots opened by the academic suspensions of Jameel Sewell, Chris Cook, Darnell Carter and Chris Dalton this year.) They note that in many seasons under Groh the Cavaliers have been well below the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarship players.
That said, those who contend that Virginia has room to add a full allotment of 25 scholarship recruits in 2009 haven’t run the numbers. I have, and it’s clear the Cavaliers are running out of space in their next class.
Groh already has 19 commitments for 2009 – though Rivals.com reports that wide receiver Tyree Watkins is looking at other schools – and several other prospects hold scholarship offers from U.Va., among them Meadowbrook High offensive tackle Morgan Moses.
How high can the Wahoos go in this class? Not much higher, if my calculations are correct—unless the winter brings significant attrition, always a possibility at U.Va.
By my count, Groh heads into the new season with 82 scholarship players, a figure that would grow to 83 if senior kicker Yannick Reyering, a former soccer star at U.Va., is awarded one. My total includes walk-on offensive lineman Isaac Cain, who because he receives financial aid from U.Va. must count against the team’s scholarship total.
Let’s assume Reyering gets a scholarship. That would give Virginia 14 scholarship players who will exhaust their college eligibility this season: Reyering, Byron Glaspy, Cedric Peerman, Aaron Clark, Clint Sintim, Jon Copper, Antonio Appleby, Eugene Monroe, Zak Stair, Maurice Covington, John Phillips, Alex Field, Scott Deke and Cary Koch.
That would also give U.Va. 69 scholarship players who’ll have eligibility remaining after this season. Several of those are on track to graduate next year and are unlikely to be invited back for the 2009 season, which would free up some space. For the sake of this discussion, let’s say that five players with eligibility remaining move on afer this academic year, along with the 14 whose eligibility will expire. That would give Groh room for 21 incoming recruits. Two of those spots, however, must be saved for Sewell and Cook, former starters who plan to to re-enter school in January and will count toward U.Va.’s scholarship total in 2009.
In theory, then, Virginia’s 2009 recruiting class is nearly filled. But recent history suggests that additional spots will come open as players leave – or are asked to leave – the program unexpectedly. Either way, U.Va. figures to be right at the 85-scholarship limit in 2009.
Shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you spot an error in this former history major’s math or have a question about my numbers.
-- Jeff White
Multi-talented Hall ignores the pressure
By Liz Keller
Published: August 15, 2008
Vic Hall came to Charlottesville with quite a football resume. And with all the acclaim, came pressure.
What pressure? Entering his junior year, the versatile Vic Hall isn’t feeling any.
Hall does a little bit of everything for the Cavaliers, — starts at cornerback, returns punts, and was recently named one of the team’s co-captains along with John Phillips, Cedric Peerman and Clint Sintim. Last year, he was also the holder for kicks.
Despite the many roles he fills, Hall has a calm, cool and collected approach to the game.
“It’s just football,” said Hall, who led UVa cornerbacks last year in tackles. “It’s something that you love to play and have been playing your whole life. So that pressure doesn’t matter.”
A former standout at Gretna High School, as quarterback Hall powered his team to back-to-backstate titles his junior and senior seasons.
But in the middle of his freshman year at Virginia, he was switched to defense. Last year was his first as a starter, and he recorded 58 tackles from his cornerback position. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder was also fifth in the ACC in punt returns averaging 10.0 yards per return.
“In high school I’d never played defense at all, and to come play defense at a level like this was a big transition,” Hall said. “If you focus and pay attention to detail [the game] eventually [gets easier].”
Virginia coach Al Groh hopes that Hall’s job as a punt returner only gets easier this season.
“He certainly, particularly in a couple of early preseason games when we could really use it, he gave us some of the longest punt returns that we had had in a few years. He definitely sparked us in that respect,” Groh said. “There’s definitely work to be done in that, improvement to be made, and probably more so with his help than with Vic himself.
“Hopefully, we can put together a unit there that has got the disposition and the talent to get him started a little better.”
Last year, Hall racked up 230 yards in punt returns — the most by a Virginia player in three years. In a 44-14 win over Pittsburgh in 2007, Hall finished with a career-high 86 punt return yards and scored the first touchdown of his career on a fake field goal. And he hopes to improve on those numbers in 2008.
“The more you practice on it, the better you get,” Hall said. “I practice just about every day and I feel I’ve gotten better since last year. I feel more comfortable.”
With his work ethic and attention to detail, Hall’s impact on the program remains invaluable.
“He is one of the great workers at practice, during training, totally tuned in and focused in every
meeting,” Groh said. “If he was on an NFL team right now, I am sure the coach would be describing him as the definition as being a real professional. Even though he is doing it from an amateur standpoint, he already goes about his business in that particular way.”
Howell steps in for Cavs
By Chip Knighton
Published: August 15, 2008
Last season had its share of fantastic finishes for the Virginia football team, but the 2007 Cavaliers had nothing on their 1995 counterparts.
That year, UVa had several games come down to the final play, including a memorable last-second stop of Florida State running back Warrick Dunn that helped force a tie for the conference title between the Cavs and the Seminoles.
UVa coach Al Groh is quietly building for a repeat performance. His son, Mike, was the quarterback on the 1995 team and is now the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator. And he hopes he’s found the heir apparent to an often-overlooked member of that squad.
That year, the Cavaliers controlled field position with Will Brice, a tall, strong-legged punter from South Carolina. While competition is still open to replace the punting duo of Ryan Weigand and Chris Gould, the frontrunner bears more than a passing resemblance to Brice.
Jimmy Howell, a 6-foot-6, 238-pound true freshman from Florence, S.C., is one of three punters on the UVa roster, joining senior John Thornton and sophomore Nathan Rathjen. Howell is the Cavs’ only scholarship punter and may have the inside track to the starting position.
“I knew I was going to have to come in here and compete just like anybody else coming in,” Howell said. “No matter where I went, I was going to have to do the same thing.”
Howell averaged 43 yards per punt as a senior at West Florence High, earning first-team all-state honors. He also started at quarterback and kicker and lettered in soccer and basketball for the Knights.
He originally committed to Northwestern before the offer came in from the Cavaliers, but the choice between Central Virginia’s mild climate and Chicago’s freezing winds was an easy one.
Howell didn’t take long to jump on the scholarship offer, which came after San Diego native Matt Zubyk decommitted from UVa (he signed with Stanford instead). The late offer was standard operating procedure for high school special-teams standouts.
“We get recruited later in our senior years,” Howell said. “They’re going to have to see everything from a freshman to a senior, how good you are and how consistent. It is different than a lot of these guys getting offered as sophomores from other positions.”
While Howell’s offer came relatively late in the game, UVa coaches had been watching him for a while.
“Jimmy came to our campus as a junior or sophomore and that was our first exposure to him,” said UVa special teams coach Bob Diaco. “He had a nice camp and did a good job, and as you look into Jimmy Howell’s other attributes and characteristics, they’re all pluses. You go through his high school, he’s got a solid transcript. Everybody’s talking about him and it’s all raves.”
The transition from high school to Division I can be a tough one for all players. Howell, like most freshmen, will need to speed up his motion to get kicks off against teams like Southern California, which visits Scott Stadium on Aug. 30.
“Typically, they’ll need to operate a little faster in terms of the amount of time they have the ball in their hand before it hits their foot,” Diaco said. “They also need to operate a little bit shorter in terms of the space that’s traveled from the point they catch the ball to the launch point. That’s what needs to happen.”
While the speed adjustment could keep some freshmen off the field, Howell appears poised to start against the Trojans. He’s confident that he can help the Cavs win the field position battle against the toughest competition the NCAA has to offer.
“I’m just doing whatever I can to help out the team,” he said. “Them bringing me in here just shows me that they have some confidence. I’m just ready to help everybody out and they’re ready to help me.”
Virginia’s Reyering takes a shot at American football
By Whitey Reid
Published: August 15, 2008
During practice on Thursday, Yannick Reyering lined up to kick a
37-yard field goal. Reyering marked off his steps and glanced up at the goal
But just as the ball was snapped from center, Reyering darted to the
outside and received a pitch from the holder.
It was a fake.
However, just as Reyering received the ball and began to turn up field, he was given a rude introduction to American football.
The 6-foot-5 German, who led the Virginia soccer team in scoring last year, was blasted in the chest with a huge hit that looked much more painful than the slide tackles Reyering has been accustomed to for much of his life.
“That was good, that was good,” said Reyering, with a sheepish grin. “It was the first hit that I’ve ever had in football, so it was a good experience. It was good to get hit before the first game.
“It wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. I wanted to get up and tell him, ‘Is that all you got?’ because it didn’t hurt.”
Just a few months ago, nobody could have fathomed that Reyering —who is competing with redshirt freshman Chris Hinkebein and recruited walk-on Robert Randolph to be Virginia’s kicker this season — would ever be on a football field.
After a stellar three-year career on the UVa soccer team — Reyering scored 39 goals and was named All-ACC in each of his years — the native of Mettingen, Germany was selected by FC Dallas in the second round of Major League Soccer’s supplemental draft.
However, since he was still recovering from a late-season knee injury and had yet to earn his college degree, Reyering — who had exhausted his soccer eligibility — elected to give football a try after talking things over with Virginia soccer coach George Gelnovatch.
“I don’t know exactly what it takes to kick field goals because I’ve never done it,” Gelnovatch said, “but he took all of our penalty kicks, which takes a lot of confidence, concentration, proper technique. He’s got all of that stuff.
“I thought he had pretty good ingredients for a field goal kicker.”
Reyering began kicking footballs in April and quickly realized that not only was he pretty good — but he had a passion for it.
Shortly after, he informed people of his intentions to go out for football — American football.
“All the guys on the soccer team were laughing,” said Reyering, whose MLS rights belong to Dallas for three years, “and they all wanted to have the first pictures of me wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. It was funny.”
Meanwhile, Reyering’s parents were a bit concerned.
“They support me in everything I do,” Reyering said, “but my mom obviously was worried about me getting hit — but I told her I would be fine.”
Reyering, sans the fake field goal attempt, certainly looked fine in Thursday’s practice. Wearing uniform No. 10 — he wore No. 11 in soccer — the 24-year-old looked to have the strongest leg of the kicking hopefuls, consistently booming the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs.
Reyering says coaches have told him not to worry about direction on his kickoffs and to just blast it as far as he can.
As one would expect, Reyering seems to be more of a work in progress on his field goals.
“All the coaches are always giving me advice and telling me what I can do better,” he said. “So far, so good. I’m just trying to go out there and get better every day. Every day I kick, I learn something new.”
Reyering says the biggest difference between kicking a soccer ball and a football are the stakes.
“I think there’s a whole lot more pressure on you in football,” Reyering said. “If you kick a ball in soccer — a free kick or something — and miss it, it’s not that big of a deal.
“But I like being under pressure.”
Reyering misses playing soccer — he says it’s “painful” when he can sometimes see his former teammates practicing on an adjacent field — but those feelings seem to subside whenever he dreams of making a big kick in football.
“I drove by Scott Stadium and looked down there and thought about what it would be like to kickoff or make a field goal in front of 63,000 people,” he said. “That would be nuts.”
Whenever Reyering scored a goal in soccer, he was know for a celebration in which he raced around the field with his arms spread wide as if he was a human airplane.
Reyering isn’t sure what he’ll do if he ever has a chance to let loose on the gridiron after a big kick.
“I heard they have some new rules about excessive celebration,” said Reyering, smiling, “so I think I have to take it a little easier this year.”