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Oct. 8, 1999

The cool, crisp evenings of late autumn are when college football really starts to heat up. In fact, many fans argue there is no better time in all of sports than when century-old rivals typically meet in the final few weeks of college football’s regular season. Often times a television network audience watches intently as two teams battle for bragging rights. Stadiums filled with capacity crowds literally shake as diehard fans show their spirit and display intense school pride. After weeks of hard work and dedication, it comes down to one game where it is all or nothing. To many, this epitomizes what college football is all about.

Each Saturday football fans from across the country focus their attention to the college gridiron, yet they often lose sight of exactly what it takes to properly prepare for a game. Many only see the glitz and glamour of a game day showdown, and few recognize the people behind the scenes making it all possible. A game that may take only three or four hours to play often times requires weeks of intense preparation. It takes a lot of hard work and several dedicated individuals to make sure a team enters a contest with the best possible chance of winning.

The University of Virginia’s football program maintains a support staff committed success both on and off the field. From academics to weight training, injuries, and equipment, they constantly make sure all areas are covered. Though the regular season only consists of 11 games, the support staff works all year long. The job often requires long hours and seven day work weeks. Once one season ends, preparations for the next season begin immediately.

It all starts with an extensive off season training program designed to help the players improve their physical abilities. Head strength coach Tony Decker works with the players two hours a day, four days a week, in an effort to acclimate their bodies to the rigors of the sport. “I try to simulate things they do in football,” said Decker. “We do a lot of change in direction and speed development training. We also perform a lot of pattern and several other exercises similar to things they would do in practice or game.”

Each off season and throughout the year, Decker constantly tailors his strength and conditioning workouts to reflect the latest innovations and advances. In order to compete in one of the country’s top conferences, he provides his players with top-notch training techniques. “You owe it to your athletes and the people you serve to provide them with the most scientifically sound program that’s out there. You do that by staying current and with yearly adjustments to your program,” said Decker.

Coming into each season, the players not only work on improving their physical skills, they also concentrate on sharpening their minds. Associate Director of Academic Affairs, Kathryn Jarvis works closely with the players to help them balance the demands of both academics and athletics. She and her staff assist the players in making sure they maximize the time they have devoted to academic endeavors. Built on a tradition of both academic and athletic excellence, UVa’s football program requires a great deal of dedication from its players. “We are a school where we’re incredible successful in both arenas,” said Jarvis. “It takes a very special and very focused student to make the choice in attending Virginia. They must be willing to commit a high level of energy, time, and dedication to both [athletics and academics].”

The Cavaliers have posted seven or more wins a year for the past 12 seasons. During that time the accomplishments in the classroom have mirrored Virginia’s success on the field. “For as long as we have won seven games a season, we have been graduating at least 70% of our football players,” said Jarvis. “To see that the players are graduating at that high rate while at the same time winning on the field is remarkable.”

This season, the Cavaliers feature eight graduate students, including running back Thomas Jones, who earned his undergraduate degree in just three years. It makes Kathryn Jarvis and her staff proud to work with players whose academic interests extend beyond the standard four years of collegiate education. Yet, sometimes the lesser known players who earn their degrees bring Jarvis an equal amount of satisfaction. “It’s special to see graduate students, and it’s special to see someone graduate in three years. Not a lot of schools have someone like a Thomas Jones who is a marquee student and a terrific athlete,” said Jarvis. “On the other hand, I am just as happy when it’s not the star player who works hard and against incredible odds still succeeds and graduates from UVa.”

Once the season kicks off, a player’s responsibilities for game preparation increases dramatically. The Monday following a game most players find themselves tucked somewhere in the McCue Center studying game film. Video Coordinator Casey Grosh and his staff sometimes work 38 out the 48 hours in a weekend to provide the team with film breakdown of a game. Reviewing film remains one of the best learning tools for everyone on the team. “It’s invaluable in the preparation for the games. Not only does it prepare the players, but it also prepares the coaches,” said Grosh. “We give them exactly what they need to see in order to make their jobs go more smoothly in the games.”

Grosh and his staff spend hours interweaving the film so players can see both the end zone angle and the 50 yard line angle at the same time. They also separate the film by offense and defense, and then they catalog it even more specifically according to position. “Linebackers don’t want to see what the defensive line is doing, so we break the film down into certain situations each position would want to see,” said Grosh. “We filter the tapes down so they can look at just what they need to see.”

A large portion of game preparation is designed to help a player get ready for what might happen on the field. In the unfortunate event of a Cavalier injury, the focus shifts to getting the player back on the field as quickly as possible. Head Athletic Trainer Ethan Saliba and his assistant Ian McLeod work closely with Dr. Frank McCue to decide exactly when a player is ready to return to action. “The classic adage goes ‘Is he hurt or is he injured’, and the idea is to determine what injuries will become a problem if a player continues to play,” said Saliba. “The challenge is determining which players can go and which ones you have to hold out due to injury.”

When a player does suffer an injury, Saliba and his staff provide extensive treatment and continuously observe the injury. Often times players find that just getting healthy and returning to the field serves as a full time job. “We have a very regimented requirement of these players when they are injured, and they have to be in here numerous times a day to treat it,” said Saliba. “They’re in here seven days a week, and the only thing don’t have a day off for is taking care of their injuries.”

Injuries aside, when the team takes the field their appearance speaks volumes about Virginia’s overall football program. Head Football Equipment Manager Rich Abadie and his staff are responsible for making sure the team comes out looking as sharp as possible. They are in charge of maintaining all the equipment and uniforms for the entire team. Abadie knows proper care for all the team’s equipment plays a crucial role in providing the proper image. “I really care about what I put on the field. My expectations of what I do are very high, because I want my stuff constantly kept up, constantly clean, and always looking good,” said Abadie. “I always want the team to go out looking good.”

Each and every member of the entire football support staff plays a major part in making Virginia’s program one of country’s most successful. Their work sometimes goes unnoticed by the fans, what they mean to this program is clearly evident every time the team takes the field. They are just as much a part of the team as any coach or player, and together they share in the success and accomplishments of Virginia football. “I enjoy the camaraderie and being part of the team,” said Abadie. “I like to feel that we’re a direct reflection and part of the reason that we win.”

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