By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At the front of the large meeting room in the McCue Center, Mike London addressed his football players Friday afternoon.
“Remember how we talked about changing things around here?” UVa’s new head coach asked his team, which was missing three key players.
About 30 minutes later, on the grass outside University Hall, with members of the Cavalier Marching Band playing and spirit-squad members cheering, fans would get to see some of those changes for themselves.
London, however, wanted his players to see the Cavaliers’ new Nike uniforms first, and so he direction their attention toward the door to his left.
The suspense built. And after a groan-inducing false start — two late-arriving players in civilian clothes, followed by a photographer, walked through the door — the models arrived, and the audience looked on intently. Quarterback Marc Verica entered the room first, followed by cornerback Ras-I Dowling and then tight end Colter Phillips.
To the front of the room they strutted so their teammates could check out the new gear. London pointed out some of the features, including the short, tight sleeves on the jerseys.
“So you guys who don’t have muscles will look like you have muscles,” London said.
Nike sent three uniforms to UVa for the unveiling: one blue, one white, one orange. The Cavaliers will mix the jerseys and pants in several combinations this season, though orange on orange isn’t likely to be one of them.
On Friday, Verica wore blue pants and orange jersey; Dowling, orange pants and white jersey; Phillips, white pants and blue jersey.
“We want to be a first-class team around here,” London said. “We’re going to look like it and play like it.”
Then he asked the players seated in front of him: “You guys approve of this?”
The response: applause and cheers.
Outside, a small crowd gathered on a sparkling spring afternoon and watched as UVa’s new equipment truck, with its 53-foot trailer, pulled up next to the stage that had been set up on the edge of the grass.
The band struck up a song, and London, clapping in time, mounted the stage.
“We want to make sure we represent you well,” London told the assembled fans, and then Verica, Dowling and Phillips entered to more cheers.
“These guys are well-representative of the team we have and the players we have,” London said.
Several features that London’s predecessor, Al Groh, had added to the Cavaliers’ uniforms are now gone, including the stripes down the sides of the pants.
The pants now have slashes of color on either side and in the back and, like the jerseys, are made of a material that will more effectively absorb sweat.
“It really breathes and feels comfortable,” Phillips said.
The players’ feet will look different too. They wore white shoes during the Groh era but asked to switch to black, and their new coach had no objections.
“They said it makes them run faster,” London told the crowd. “I hope so.”
Most significant, the Wahoos can now break out a color other than blue or white. Groh urged fans to wear orange to games, but he never made it a dominant part of his team’s uniforms.
“I think it’s great to incorporate the orange back in the uniform,” Dowling said, and the enthusiastic response he received from fans indicated that they agreed.
The crowd also applauded the 2010 helmet, which has lost the two stripes down the middle– London called them “goat horns” — that Groh had added in 2001.
The helmet is a metallic blue, and “when sunlight hits it, it kind of sparkles,” London said.
From UVa fan Michael Gold, the uniforms received glowing reviews.
“They look great,” said Gold, who lives in Richmond. “They look traditional. There was so much talk about [UVa officials] going out to Oregon [to visit Nike], I thought they were going to come out looking like the University of Oregon.”
Other fans shared Gold’s concerns. Oregon’s look isn’t for everyone, to say the least. But UVa’s uniforms, part of Nike’s new Pro Combat series, have little in common with the Duck’s flamboyant outfits.
“There was never anything that was going to be like Oregon,” said Jon Oliver, UVa’s executive associate director of athletics.
Before London took the job at UVa, “Mike and I talked [during the interview process] about how important it would be for him to do things that would be important to the kids as well,” Oliver recalled Friday, and that included uniforms.
“All this was designed to give the kids some input into something fresh and new,” Oliver said.
UVa’s new truck, which is painted orange and blue, is provided by Hilldrup Moving and Storage. Hilldrup’s president is former Virginia linebacker Charles McDaniel.
McDaniel, who played from 1982 to ’85, is second in career tackles at UVa with 432. Just imagine, he quipped Friday afternoon, how many he might have made if the Cavaliers’ uniforms had been so sleek back then.
The new uniforms will be on display Saturday at Scott Stadium, under the pergola, during the Wahoos’ Spring Football Festival. That’s also where jerseys worn by UVa players from 2000 to ’06 will be for sale, at $75 apiece.