By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – They’re about the same height and about the same weight. One wears jersey No. 53 for UVa’s football team, and the other wore No. 54. Athletically they’re similar, too.
Steve Greer is no clone of Jon Copper, but the comparisons don’t bother him.
“I have no problem being called Jon Copper,” Greer said after practice the other day. “He led the team in tackles for three years.”
The final time Copper did so – in 2008 – he was a senior. So was the other starting inside linebacker, Antonio Appleby, in the Cavaliers’ 3-4 defense.
Fifth-year senior Darren Childs has moved into Appleby’s spot. Copper’s replacement is Greer, a 6-2, 230-pound redshirt freshman from the Cleveland area. UVa also has a new linebackers coach, Bob Trott, who spent the past four seasons on the staff of Greer’s favorite NFL team, the Cleveland Browns.
Copper was renowned for the hours he logged studying videotape in the McCue Center. Greer, 19, wants to be known for a similar work ethic.
“There’s really nothing you could do to beat hard work,” Greer said. “The coaches instill that in us every day. The more time you put in, you more you start seeing results.”
Greer impressed in training camp last year. But with Copper and Appleby around, he was unlikely to have played a significant role as a true freshman, and UVa coach Al Groh ultimately opted to redshirt Greer.
The coaching staff didn’t forget about Greer. Even after it became clear that Greer, barring an emergency, would not play in 2008, Groh brought him along to road games. He knew that Greer would contend for a starting job this year, Groh said, “and hopefully by being on the scene and seeing all that goes on with that, that would have him a little more prepared. And at this stage right now, it would appear that he did a very good job of taking in and profiting from what he was exposed to.”
Greer said he benefited from traveling with the team last year.
“It was another learning experience,” he said. “I got see how things worked.”
As a Solon High senior, Greer committed to UVa on the eve of signing day in 2008. He chose Virginia over North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Army and Air Force.
Two months earlier, Greer had been little more than a name to the ‘Hoos. But after returning from the Gator Bowl, Groh said this morning, “we were looking to expand our list at some positions. We were aware of Steven by reputation but had not evaluated him.”
The evaluation made the decision to offer a scholarship to Greer an easy one. He played in a rugged league, attended a prestigious high school career and had a passion for football.
Solon competes in Division I, which comprises Ohio’s largest high schools. In 2007, Greer led the Comets with 150 tackles, including 25 for loss, and was named to the all-Ohio first team in Division I.
Greer’s commitment followed his official visit to UVa. “It’s a great school, and I kind of just knew,” Greer said. “It was a no-brainer that this was where I wanted to come.”
And now, barely a year after he enrolled at Virginia, Greer is being asked to fill the void left by Copper’s departure.
“I have every confidence in him,” said defensive end Matt Conrath, who started every game as a redshirt freshman in 2008. “As long as he studies tape and trusts what Coach Trott’s telling him, he’ll be fine.”
Greer said: “Coach Groh and Coach Trott have us as a defense prepared pretty well, so I’m not really nervous. There’s 10 other guys out there, so we’ve just got to work together.”
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EXTRA POINTS: Virginia’s captains for this season are quarterback Vic Hall and tackle Will Barker on offense and end Nate Collins, linebackers Aaron Clark and Denzel Burrell and cornerback Chris Cook on defense.
“This was the first time we had so many guys on one side of the ball, offense or defense, wind up with virtually the same vote count,” Groh said. “We checked our voting machines and didn’t find any hanging chads. We just went with the results.”
All six of those chosen by their teammates are seniors. Hall was one of Virginia’s captains last season, too.