By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The guy in the No. 55 jersey looks familiar. Isn’t that Jared Detrick?
It is, and he’s hoping for a successful second act in a college football career that started in promising fashion.
Detrick, a linebacker from Newport News, was one of the five true freshmen whom Al Groh, then UVa’s head coach, played in 2007. Detrick was used primarily on special teams, but he displayed a tantalizing mix of size and speed and appeared to have a bright future at Virginia.
And then …. nothing. That’s overstating things, but Detrick played little in 2008 before missing the final three games of the season with a wrist injury.
That wasn’t his only physical problem. He’d been playing with a shoulder injury that finally required surgery after his sophomore season. Detrick didn’t recover in time to play for the Cavaliers in 2009, which may turn to be a blessing for the former Woodside High star.
Detrick has two seasons of eligibility remaining, and as the Wahoos head into their Spring Football Festival, Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium, he’s on the first-team defense at outside linebacker.
“With Jared, it’s kind of a new-lease-on-life opportunity,” said Mike London, who replaced Groh after last season.
“He just kind of faded to oblivion. I don’t know what happened. I know he got the injury, but he’s back now, and I’m hoping he gives us a productive year.”
In Groh’s trademark 3-4 defense, Detrick probably would not have cracked the rotation at outside linebacker in 2009. Denzel Burrell, Aaron Clark and Cameron Johnson split most of the snaps there last season, and Billy Schautz earned some time after he returned from a knee injury.
The 3-4 is gone, though, as are Clark and Burrell, seniors in 2009. London, who was Groh’s defensive coordinator when Detrick was a true freshman, has installed a 4-3 defense in which Detrick appears likely to play a prominent role.
“Going into the start of spring practice, I don’t think he was at the conditioning level he needed to be to make the plays that he can make physically,” said Vincent Brown, UVa’s new linebackers coach. “But for the last few weeks he’s done a really good job. He knows what we’re doing. He’s been around, so he has a really good understanding of the coverage concepts and the run fits.”
Johnson is now at defensive end. So is Schautz, and that leaves Detrick as the team’s most experienced outside linebacker. He’s aware that things are finally breaking his way.
“I was fortunate enough to get that medical redshirt, and I worked hard in the offseason, worked on my shoulder, worked on everything, and then Coach London came in and gave me a chance,” Detrick said after a recent practice.
“He said, ‘Run,’ and that’s what I was good at. I’m a fast player. He just gave me a chance, and I’m working hard to keep it.”
At Woodside, Detrick ran on the 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams and also competed in the 110 hurdles, the long jump, the high jump, the shot put and the discus. His best time in the 100 meters, Detrick said, was 11.5 seconds.
He was leaner then. When he signed with Virginia in February 2007, Detrick was listed at 6-1, 215 pounds. Groh wanted his linebackers to be much bigger, and by the time London returned to UVa in December, Detrick weighed 240-plus.
“When I saw him when I first got here,” London recalled with a laugh, “I was like, ‘Good gracious. What have you been eating?’ He said, ‘Hey, I had to get big to be a linebacker.’ “
Detrick is down to about 235 pounds, and more weight needs to come off.
“He recognizes that, because he knows he’s not running as fast as what he used to,” London said.
Brown, a graduate assistant at UVa in 2007, spent the next two seasons on London’s staff at the University of Richmond. The Spiders ran the 4-3, and that’s the scheme favored by Virginia’s new defensive coordinator, Jim Reid, too.
UVa’s linebackers are learning that their coaches prize speed and quickness “and not necessarily the bulk,” Brown said.
“And it’s a difficult transition for some of them. They’re used to hearing, ‘OK, you gotta be 245, 250 pounds to hold up against a guard or a tackle or a tight end.’ Now we want to be in a position to attack the line of scrimmage with speed, get to the corner, be able to run with receivers down the middle of the field.”
The biggest change in Detrick’s responsibilities?
“I just need to run faster,” he said. “It’s a lot faster. There are faster reads in this 4-3 scheme than it was in the 3-4 scheme. I was originally on the line, so everything came to me. Now I have to go find the ball and just go attack and be a shark to blood.”
He counts his blessings every day, Detrick said. His career hasn’t unfolded as he might have hoped, but he’s healthy again and running with the first team in a scheme that should play to his strengths.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Detrick said. “I just had to keep my head up, and I knew everything was going to fall into place. I just had to keep working hard, keep watching tape, study the game, learn the game. We have a great staff here with Coach Brown and Coach Reid and the defensive coaches. They’re letting us play and work hard.”
Like Detrick, London grew up in Tidewater, and London helped persuade Detrick to sign with the ‘Hoos. So there’s a strong bond between them, and when the news broke that London was returning to UVa as head coach, Detrick was thrilled.
“I already knew what he had to offer,” Detrick said. “Coach Groh was a great coach. I learned a lot from him, but it’s time to move on. With Coach London, it’s a new era. We’re just trying to pick up the pieces and put Virginia back on the map.”