One Last Dance
Dec. 3, 2001
By Trent Packer
For four years and 43 games, Virginia defensive lineman Ljubomir Stamenich has strapped on his pads, laced up his shoes and proudly adorned a UVa jersey. He has been a mainstay along the defensive line since his redshirt freshman season, when he started his career in startling fashion by collecting two sacks and three tackles for a loss of 15 yards against Auburn. Today, Stamenich will run out the tunnel and onto David A. Harrison III field for the 44th and final time.
“I have been in such a routine for the past five years,” Stamenich says. “[Football] has been such a big part of my life. I don’t think that [this being my last game] is really going to affect me at all until I realize and let it sink in that it’s over.”
The end of a five-year college football career (he red-shirted as a true freshman in 1997) will certainly change Stamenich’s lifestyle, at lease temporarily. Nevertheless, the senior maintains he won’t do anything unusual to prepare himself for Penn State.
“After [today], football is just something that could or could not happen. I might have to go work and start a whole different lifestyle. I’m sure it will hit me after the game, when it all really sets in. I’ve got my routine, the way I go about things, and I don’t think I can change it for one game.”
In his five years in Charlottesville, Stamenich has seen quite a few changes, including the renovation of the Carl Smith Center, home of David A. Harrison III field at Scott Stadium. But no change in home turf could match the profound redirection he experienced when longtime Virginia head coach George Welsh announced his retirement last December. Al Groh was named head coach in January 2001. He brought with him a new defensive scheme that completely altered Stamenich’s role.
Groh’s defensive system is predicated on a three-man defensive front, with four linebackers behind it. For four years, Stamenich played and practiced in a 4-3 system, so the change forced Stamenich to put aside many of the schemes and formations he was accustomed to for a whole new set of responsibilities.
“I think it’s given me a whole different perspective about football,” Stamenich says. “Since high school I had a whole set of techniques that I used. We started playing 3-4, and that was out the window.”
While Virginia has primarily stuck with the 3-4 formation through most of the season, the team did revert to the 4-3 set for a game against Wake Forest on November 3. Stamenich realized then that he had not lost the ability to play in the 4-3 system. Instead, playing in a different scheme has given Stamenich a wider array of knowledge and skills to draw from. It has also been an enjoyable change for the lineman.
“We went to the [4-3] for that week against Wake Forest, and [the skills] were still there,” Stamenich says. “I think, no matter what, it has benefited all the defensive linemen. We have a little bit of experience doing both.
“It has been fun. You go head up, one-on-one with a guy and it’s fun that way, to see if he can really beat you man-to-man.”
One thing that has bothered Stamenich to some degree this season is the perception that the defensive line has not been getting enough sacks. He asserts that in a 3-4 defense, the linemen are focused on plugging holes and stopping the run, thereby opening lanes of pursuit for the linebackers and defensive backs.
“When we are in a 3-4, unless we have a blitz called, we are primarily thinking about the run,” Stamenich says. “A lot of people don’t understand that. They don’t see our defensive line getting the big number of sacks. Linebackers and DBs will get them out of a 3-4.”If they really want us to get after the passer, then [the coaches] will put us in a 4-3, put us on the edge and call some blitzes for us. [Our responsibility] is primarily just to stop the run, beat your man one-on-one and fill the gaps so the other guys can make plays.”Two weeks ago against Georgia Tech, Stamenich and his defensive counterparts executed their run-stopping responsibilities extremely well. The team limited a Yellow Jackets team that had ranked among the Atlantic Coast Conference leaders in rushing to just 74 yards on the ground. In general, the system is helping UVa’s defense get to the passer more frequently, as Virginia had more sacks through 10 games (20) than it had all of last season (15).
As a team, we have had confidence all year,” Stamenich says. “We’ve known we can do it. We have been disappointed in a couple games, we have had a few mistakes here, a few bad plays there and some bad breaks. When we did that [held Georgia Tech to 74 yards rushing], it was just a feeling of satisfaction because it said to people ‘look, this is what we can do when we are really playing and we’re on our game.'”
Today against the Nittany Lions, Stamenich and his fellow seniors will be gunning for a victory in their final game at Virginia. The senior lineman hopes to leave Scott Stadium this afternoon with another victory under his belt, possibly one secured in dramatic fashion.
“For me personally, I just want to win,” Stamenich says. “I want all my teammates to stay healthy through the last game and come out with a victory. I’d say it would be nice to kick a last-second field goal and win 10-7 or beat them 7-0, but I don’t know. Those games are fun, but I don’t know if I really want it to come down to the wire. Just to come out with a big win against a traditional powerhouse would be great.”
When all is said and done and Stamenich has peeled off his jersey for the final time, no matter what the outcome of today’s game is, he will still have a littany of memories collected over his five years at Virginia. Win or lose, nothing can take those fond rememberances away from him.
“[I’ll remember] all the different people I’ve met through academics and football,” Stamenich says. “[I’ll cherish] he camraderie in the lockerroom, the different people that I’ve known over the years and the experience of playing with players like Patrick Kerney, Anthony Poindexter, Darryl Sanders and Monsanto Pope. It was great playing side-by-side people who shared a common interest and attitude with you. That was something [that didn’t exist as much] in high school. I had a set of friends, but they weren’t really athletes.
“I came here, and I saw a lot of guys who had the same interests as me and it was fun meeting so many different people.”