Football Season Preview
July 17, 1998
Welsh Undergoes Surgery
Virginia head football coach George Welsh underwent surgery on June 22 to remove a ruptured disc in his back. Dr. Richard Whitehill performed the operation at the University of Virginia Medical Center.Welsh, who will not be able to attend this week’s ACC Football Kick-off, has been resting since his surgery and is expected to be back coaching by the time UVa’s freshmen report on August 7.
Projected National and Conference Finish
Several publications have made their predictions about the upcoming season and most see the Cavaliers finishing in the first division of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings this season. There is an even split between the magazines as to where they see the Cavaliers finishing in the ACC this fall–three forecast a second-place finish, three see third place.
Virginia finished tied for third in the league last season with a 5-3 league mark. The Cavaliers haven’t finished lower than fourth in the league since 1986 when they tied for sixth.
ACC national finish rankStreet & Smith's 2 11Athlon 2 12 Phil Steele's College FB Preview 2 24Lindy's 3 14The Sporting News 3 15 College & Pro Football Newsweekly 3 NA
Cavalier Units Listed Among Nation’s Best
Aided by eight returning starters, this year’s Cavalier defense looks to be a team strength in 1998. And that’s how several preseason prognosticators see it.
Lindy’s football magazine lists the Virginia defensive line as the seventh-best in the nation. Athlon lists UVa’s defensive line fourth in the nation.
Lindy’s also rates the UVa secondary as the 10th-best in the land.
On offense, quarterback Aaron Brooks, tailback Thomas Jones and fullback Anthony Southern return to form the sixth-best backfield in the nation (and best in the ACC) according to Lindy’s.
While the Cavaliers are ranked from 11th to 24th nationally, The Sporting News rates the Cavaliers as one of five “sleeper” teams in 1998.
Poindexter Preseason All-American Again
Senior safety Anthony Poindexter, a first-team All-American last season, has been named to numerous All-America teams this preseason.
Poindexter travelled to Phoenix, Ariz., in May for a photo shoot as a member of the Playboy All-America squad for the second year in a row.
One of the top safeties in the country, Poindexter delighted Virginia fans during the off-season by announcing his intentions to return to the squad for his final year of eligibility instead of making himself available for the NFL draft.
He was the second-leading tackler among defensive backs in the ACC last season despite missing one game and most of two others because of injuries, and led the team in interceptions for the second consecutive season.
His list of 1998 preseason honors is below.
* #3 safety in the nation by Lindy’s (top S in ACC)
* Jim Thorpe Award candidate by Street & Smith’s
* Chuck Bednarik Award candidate by Street & Smith’s
* 1st-Team All-American by The Sporting News
* 1st-Team All-American by Bob Griese’s Yearbook
* 1st-Team All-American by Street & Smith’s
* 1st-Team All-American by Playboy
* 1st-Team All-American by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
* 2nd-Team All-American by Athlon
* 2nd-Team All-American by Football News
Other Cavaliers Receive National Recognition
With a squad that returns 14 starters from a year ago, it should come as no surprise that several Cavaliers have been mentioned among the various All-American and “Best of” lists.
Looking to build on a fabulous final month last season, Aaron Brooks is listed as the #7 all-purpose quarterback in the nation by The Sporting News.
A listing of preseason honors received by the Cavaliers is below.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks* #7 all-purpose quarterback in the nation by The Sporting News* Honorable Mention All-American by Street & Smith's
Tight End Casey Crawford* #5 tight end in the nation by Lindy’s (only ACC TE among 15 listed)
Defensive Tackle Antonio Dingle* #4 defensive tackle in the nation by The Sporting News (top ACC DT listed)* #5 defensive tackle in the nation by Lindy’s (top ACC DT listed)* 3rd-Team All-American by Athlon* Honorable Mention All-American by Playboy* Honorable Mention All-American by Street & Smith’s* Honorable Mention All-American by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
Running Back Thomas Jones* Honorable Mention All-American by Phil Steele’s College FB PreviewDefensive End Patrick Kerney* Listed as one of the most “underexposed” players in the nation by The Sporting News Linebacker Wali Rainer* Honorable Mention All-American by Playboy* Honorable Mention All-American by Street & Smith’s
Running Back Anthony Southern* #4 fullback in the nation by Lindy’s (only ACC FB among 15 listed)
Cornerback Dwayne Stukes* #25 cornerback in the nation by Lindy’s (fifth among ACC CB)Linebacker Byron Thweatt* #19 linebacker in the nation by Lindy’s (second sophomore linebacker listed)
Eleven Returnees Named Preseason All-ACC
Eleven of 14 returning starters for Virginia this season have received preseason All-ACC mention by the various summer publications–five on offense, six on defense.
Both of UVa’s first-team All-ACC picks from last season–defensive tackle Antonio Dingle and safety Anthony Poindexter–return in 1998.
Three other returnees were honorable mention All-ACC picks last fall–defensive end Patrick Kerney, and linebackers Wali Rainer and Byron Thweatt.
Surprisingly, despite leading the ACC in passing, Aaron Brooks was not even an honorable mention All-ACC choice last season. This season Athlon has picked him as the first-team quarterback.
The Cavaliers selected to the various preseason All-ACC teams are listed below.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks* 1st-Team All-ACC by Athlon
Guard Fady Chamoun* 3rd-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
Tight End Casey Crawford* 1st-Team All-ACC by Lindy’s* 1st-Team All-ACC by The Sporting News* 2nd-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
Defensive Tackle Antonio Dingle* 1st-Team All-ACC by Athlon* 1st-Team All-ACC by Lindy’s* 1st-Team All-ACC by The Sporting News* 1st-Team All-ACC by Football News* 1st-Team All-ACC by College & Pro Football Newsweekly* 1st-Team All-ACC by Street & Smith’s* 1st-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
Running Back Thomas Jones* 1st-Team All-ACC by Athlon* 1st-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview* 2nd-Team All-ACC by Lindy’s* 2nd-Team All-ACC by The Sporting NewsDefensive End Patrick Kerney* 3rd-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
Guard Noel LaMontagne* 2nd-Team All-ACC by The Sporting News
Safety Anthony Poindexter* ACC Defensive Player of the Year by Lindy’s* ACC Defensive Player of the Year by The Sporting News* Listed as the fourth-best player in the ACC by Lindy’s* 1st-Team All-ACC by Athlon* 1st-Team All-ACC by Lindy’s* 1st-Team All-ACC by The Sporting News* 1st-Team All-ACC by Football News* 1st-Team All-ACC by College & Pro Football Newsweekly* 1st-Team All-ACC by Street & Smith’s* 1st-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
Linebacker Wali Rainer* 1st-Team All-ACC by Athlon* 1st-Team All-ACC by The Sporting News* 1st-Team All-ACC by Football News* 1st-Team All-ACC by College & Pro Football Newsweekly* 3rd-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB Preview
Cornerback Dwayne Stukes* 2nd-Team All-ACC by Lindy’s* 2nd-Team All-ACC by Phil Steele’s College FB PreviewLinebacker Byron Thweatt* 2nd-Team All-ACC by The Sporting News
Cavaliers Extend ACC-Record Streak
The Cavaliers started slowly last season with a 1-2 record after three games, but finished strong with six wins in the last eight games, including three wins in November.
Virginia’s 7-4 record last season marks its 11th consecutive season with at least seven wins–an ACC-record streak. The Cavaliers’ 11 consecutive winning seasons is also an ACC record.
The last time the Cavaliers posted as many consecutive winning seasons was 28 straight winning campaigns from 1888-1915.
The Cavaliers join Florida State, Michigan and Nebraska as the only teams in the nation to win at least seven games each of the last 11 seasons.
Work Continues at Scott Stadium
Several major facility improvements will be visible to spectators this fall when they visit the Carl Smith Center, home of David A. Harrison III Field at Scott Stadium.
Two of the most recent changes have occurred at the north end of the stadium, where the hillside seating area was moved 30 feet closer to the playing field and a state-of-the-art videoboard was installed to replace UVa’s electronic scoreboard.
Such enhancements are all part of the University’s three-year plan to renovate the stadium and increase its capacity by 15,000 seats to 60,000 by the 2000 season. The stadium renovation project became a reality following a $25 million challenge grant from UVa alumnus Carl W. Smith to the University in June of 1997. The bulk of Smith’s gift–$23 million–is being used toward the stadium project. The total cost of the project is estimated to cost more than $50 million with the balance coming from gifts and other funds generated by the university.
Earthwork on the north hillside, used primarily for “Hoos on the Hill” (youth 18-and-under) and overflow student seating, began in mid-April 1998. The Charlottesville firm of Faulconer Construction transported approximately 1,000 truckloads of dirt to fill in and reshape the hillside, allowing fans to sit closer to the action. Terraced levels, created with granite steps going down the middle of the hillside, were added to make the area more safe and accessible.
Another Charlottesville firm, Martin-Horn, Inc., began constructing the steel structure to support the videoboard in June. The videoboard will have the capability to display live game action and instant replay from the stadium as well as accept network feeds of other games around the country. Other components of the videoboard include a scoreboard and message center, advertising panels and a new sound system, which will deliver improved sound throughout the stadium.
The most dramatic stadium improvements, however, are yet to come. Bryant Hall, a dining and locker room facility located in the south end zone, will be removed following the 1998 season to make room for construction of a two-level south bowl seating area. Bryant Hall will be rebuilt to include expanded locker rooms and 30,000 square feet of additional space.
According to Wayne Smith, executive director of UVa’s Athletics Capital Campaign, the lower level of the south bowl and the new locker rooms are scheduled for completion by the fall of 1999.
The final phase of the expansion project includes: construction of the south bowl’s upper deck; expansion of the President’s Box to include donor recognition seating area and lounges; construction of up to 44 luxury suites, wrapping around the south bowl area and extending to the 20-yard line on each side of the stadium; completion of the new Bryant Hall; building a 600-space three-level parking garage to the south of the stadium behind new Bryant Hall; construction of a pergola plaza above the hill on the north side; replacing the bleachers on the Northwest and Northeast sides of the stadium with permanent seating and additional bathrooms.
Fourteen Starters Return in ’98
Head coach George Welsh and his staff welcome back 32 lettermen, including 14 starters, when upperclassmen report on August 11.
Six starters from last season return on offense, while eight return on defense. For the second year in a row, neither of Virginia’s starting kicking specialists return.
This is the most returning starters UVa has had since 17 returned for the 1995 campaign. The 1995 squad returned eight starters on offense and seven on defense (plus both kickers).
Returning starters on offense include quarterback Aaron Brooks, guards Fady Chamoun and Noel LaMontagne, tight end Casey Crawford, tackle Robert Hunt, and tailback Thomas Jones. In addition, wide receiver Terrence Wilkins, who started four games in 1997, returns.
Defensively, tackle Antonio Dingle, ends Travis Griffith and Patrick Kerney, linebackers Wale Elegbe, Wali Rainer and Byron Thweatt, safety Anthony Poindexter, and cornerback Dwayne Stukes return.
Quarterback Returns for First Time Since ’95
For the first time since Mike Groh in 1995, Virginia has its quarterback back for another season. Aaron Brooks took over the signal calling duties last season, the fourth year in a row Virginia had a different quarterback start the season opener. Brooks started all 11 games in his first year as the starter and responded by leading the ACC in passing.
If Brooks stays healthy and starts every game this season, he would become the first UVa quarterback to start every game for two consecutive years in 30 years. Gene Arnette started all 10 games in 1967 and 1968.
Crawford Set to Return at Tight End
Casey Crawford played in just four games last season before going down with a broken leg against Wake Forest. He had 10 receptions last season and was on a pace to catch over 30 passes until being sidelined for the year with his injury.
Crawford still showed enough to merit preseason All-ACC honors from Lindy’s and The Sporting News. In fact, Lindy’s lists him as the fifth-best tight end in the country (and best in the ACC).
Virginia hasn’t had a tight end catch at least 30 passes since Aaron Mundy caught 31 (for 409 yards) in 1991.
Linebacking Corps Returns Intact
Led by Wali Rainer and Byron Thweatt, Virginia returns all four players who started at least one game at linebacker last season.
Rainer, a preseason All-ACC selection by several publications, anchors the linebackers from his middle linebacker position. He led all ACC linebackers (third overall) last season with nine quarterback sacks. He led the team with 118 tackles last fall, ninth in the ACC.
Thweatt was named a freshman All-American last season after recording 97 tackles. One of only four ACC rookies to start every game last season, he led all conference rookies in tackles.
Wale Elegbe and Donny Green split time at the other linebacking spot. Elegbe started six contests and finished fourth on the team with 74 tackles. He finished the season strong with 10+ tackles in five of the last eight games.
Green started five games a year ago and was sixth on the team with 51 tackles. He made a career-high 10 tackles in the season finale against Virginia Tech.
UVa Sets ACC Scoring Streak
Virginia holds the Atlantic Coast Conference record by scoring in 164 consecutive games, breaking the previous mark of 162 set by Clemson from 1979-93.
The last time UVa was held scoreless was a 55-0 loss to Clemson to open the 1984 season.
Virginia’s streak is the longest current streak by an ACC school (including Florida State). It is also the third-longest current streak in the nation behind Brigham Young and Texas.
Poindexter Provides the Big Play on Defense
All-American safety Anthony Poindexter has gained a well-earned reputation as one of the nation’s most ferocious tacklers. But putting a hard hit on the opposition isn’t the only thing he does well.
He finished second among ACC defensive backs last season with 78 tackles despite missing one complete game and most of two others because of injuries. He also led the team in interceptions for the second year in a row with four.
Poindexter has made 269 tackles in his career, tops among defensive backs in school history and 12th among active college players entering 1998.
He enters the 1998 season tied for 13th on the ACC list for most career tackles by a defensive back. With a season similar to his first three, he should move into the top-five.
Of his 17 turnovers or blocked punts in regular season games during his career, 12 led to Virginia touchdowns and another to a field goal.
Uncertainty Surrounds the Kicking Game
For the second year in a row, the Cavaliers are faced with the unenviable task of finding a place-kicker and a punter. In fact, the kicking game is one of head coach George Welsh’s top concerns entering the season.
The Cavaliers got solid seasons from punter Frank Rotella (40.0 avg.) and place-kicker John Allen Roberts (eight field goals) in 1997. Despite starting for just one season, both players had been in the program for four years before being called on to play key roles last season.
This season, both positions will be manned by players who have been in the program for no more than two years and have no game experience.
The leading candidates to replace Rotella as punter are junior Donald Scott and red-shirt freshman Mike Abrams. Abrams averaged 44.0 yards on four punts in UVa’s spring game, while Scott averaged 38.3 yards on six punts. Scott boomed a long punt of 65 yards, while Abrams’ best was 56 yards.
Three players are expected to compete for the place-kicking responsibilities. Among them are sophomore Todd Braverman, and red-shirt freshmen David Greene and Greg Owens. Braverman kicked a 37-yard field goal during the spring game, while Owens made a 20-yarder. Owens also had a 27-yard punt in the game.
Four Lettermen Return along Offensive Line
Virginia returns an experienced offensive line this season with four lettermen back, including three starters.
Fady Chamoun and Noel LaMontagne return at the guard positions for their second year as starters.
Robert Hunt returns at right tackle next to Chamoun. He started the final eight games last season after beginning the season as the back-up to Julius Williams
John St. Clair is expected to replace Matt Link at center. He started two games last season in Link’s place, and saw action in all 11 contests. With his experience, he can almost be considered a returning starter.
The position with the least amount of returning experience is the left tackle slot. Jermese Jones is listed first on the depth chart heading into preseason drills. He saw reserve action in four games last season as a true freshman. One of the biggest players on the team, Jones is 6-5, 315.
Taking a Look at the Schedule
The Cavaliers’ 1998 schedule features six games against teams that played in bowl games last season.
Virginia’s schedule includes three games against teams that won at least 10 games last season (Auburn, Florida State, North Carolina). Only Florida and South Carolina (four games each) play more games this season against teams that won 10+ games last year than Virginia.
Among the bowl teams on the Cavaliers’ 1998 slate are Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Several of these teams are also listed among the nation’s top-25 squads in preseason rankings.
UVa’s opponents this season had a combined 72-55 (.567) record last season.
The Cavaliers also play only five home games this season, the fewest since they played five in 1994.