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By Cayce Troxel

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s annual football media days signals the start of the college football season. The league’s head coaches and top players converged in Greensboro, N.C., at the Grandover Resort for two days of interviews and social events.

Virginia quarterback Marc Verica and cornerback Ras-I Dowling represented the Cavaliers and the two senior captains tackled the event, and a few obstacles along the way, head on. tagged along to give the fans the players’ perspective on the event.

Sunday, July 25
6 a.m. Wake Up Call

Unlike players from the state of North Carolina, who have the luxury of a quick trip to Greensboro, Verica and Dowling could not afford to sleep in Sunday with a three-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of them. Scheduled to meet Virginia assistant media relations director, Vincent Briedis, at the McCue Center by 8 a.m., the pair rose early-but perhaps not early enough.

“We were supposed to get to the McCue Center at 8, but Marc calls at 7:50 and says he needs a ride,” Dowling explained. “So I go get gas, then when I pull up, he’s not even ready.”

Verica’s version-“I missed him when I was sitting outside waiting for him in the parking lot, and I called him at 7:45, not 7:50.”

The friendly banter between teammates is just the trip’s first exchange of needling one another, keeping the mood light. While Verica possesses a drier and straight-edged sense of humor, Dowling is always smiling as he cracks jokes to those around him.

While Briedis waits at the McCue Center, UVa media relations director Jim Daves, already with an hour head start on the players in order to drop off notes and publicity materials when registration opens at 10:30 a.m., is not concerned.

“I told them to meet a half hour earlier than they really needed to leave,” Daves said. “I’ve been doing this enough years to know that the guys might be a little slow to get moving in the morning, unless it is for a scheduled workout. So you build in a little time, you just don’t tell them that.”

8:30 a.m. – Departure
Finally leaving Charlottesville a half-hour later than planned, the three hit the road. Dowling puts on a Christian rap CD for a little background music as the trio talks sports, friends, and how both Dowling and Verica are looking forward to playing in such an historic edifice as the Los Angles Memorial Coliseum in just over a month from now.

9:30 a.m. – Breakfast
The trio stops for a quick bite to eat at Bojangles’ in Lynchburg and is back on the road.

12 p.m. – Arrival and Lunch
The Cavaliers arrive at the Grandover Resort 15 minutes before a scheduled lunch with the other ACC players and their respective sports information staffs. Because their rooms are not yet available, the players hustle up to Daves and Briedis’ room to change into their navy school polo shirts.

At the luncheon, the ACC staff reviews the weekend’s schedule, thanks the players for their involvement, and reminds them to exercise patience … because they may be asked the same questions repeatedly as they work their way through an afternoon of interviews.

Orange Bowl representatives are on hand to provide the players with talking points on the ACC’s BCS partner and to remind them that the Orange Bowl marks the ultimate destination of the ACC champion.

Dowling and Verica share a table with players from Florida State and North Carolina, including Seminoles’ quarterback Christian Ponder who was later named ACC Preseason Player of the Year.

1:30 p.m. – Player Photos
The players take a quick break to don their new navy Nike jerseys-“Ras-I and I didn’t have a say in the color, but I’m happy with the selection,” Verica remarked-before parading outside with the rest of the league’s best for a media photo opportunity on the resort’s back lawn.

With the temperature pushing triple digits, the Cavaliers take group shots, first by division and then all together with ACC Commissioner, John Swofford. While waiting his turn for a photo with Verica, Dowling tries his hand at a memory game on Daves’ iPad.

“Right now, it’s a little hot,” Verica said, in between gulps of water. “I’ve just got to keep drinking liquids and stay hydrated through all of this. Now we’re getting ready to go full swing with these interviews.”

And what was to be anticipated of those interviews?

“I expect answering the same question at least 37 times,” Verica said, jokingly.

“The most asked question will definitely be, ‘How is Coach London doing? How is the transition with the new staff?'” Dowling predicted.

2:00-3:15 p.m. – Print Media Interviews
With over 250 media in attendance, the ACC divides interviews into three sets-print, electronic, and radio-and then rotates the players through the three stations in two separate groups, equally divided alphabetically.

Escorted into a ballroom, the players sit at opposite ends of a large table to field questions; Virginia has one of the busiest tables amongst the six teams in the room, which include Miami, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

“The reporters will ask any question-it’s crazy” Dowling said. “Then one of them will start to ask a question, and another guy will cut him off and try to ask his question, and the first guy who started to ask a question would get mad.”

The questions run the gambit from softballs, like ‘what is your fondest memory from childhood?’ to which Dowling responded, “just having love around. Money only buys things, but love lasts forever” – to more pointed questions such as ‘what are your thoughts on last year’s disappointing season’ – to which Verica replied “it’s easy to tuck your tail and run away, but you’ve got to stand your ground.”

As predicted, the players were asked not only about their opinions thus far of new head coach Mike London-“He’s a God-faring man that has so much love and passion for what he does,” responded Dowling-but also about their first impressions of the new assistants, including offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor-“He’s very demanding, but we have a great relationship” Verica said.

Not every question was football-related, however. While Dowling was asked extensively about his hair-cutting abilities (he started cutting his brother’s hair when he was little and now does his teammates) and the origins of his name (his dad was a big boxing fan and heard of a boxer named “Livingstone Ras-I Bramble”), Verica was even urged to demonstrate some of the dance moves he learned in his summer class, “The Social Change of Dance.” (He politely declined.)

Both players handled the attention well, with Dowling channeling Verica’s straight-edged sense of humor when a North Carolina reporter asked him ‘what made the Cavaliers’ home stadium in Blacksburg such difficult environment for road teams.’ Dowling gave a glimpse of his signature smile then quickly went deadpan to ask the reporter, “Don’t you mean Charlottesville?” Standing firm in his question with a bit of bewilderment, the reporter repeated, “No, your home stadium in Blacksburg.” As he finished repeating his question, the reporter noticed the Virginia Tech table in the corner of the ballroom and quickly rephrased his question to Dowling, “I mean Charlottesville.” Dowling smiled and told the embarrassed reporter “no worries” after numerous apologies ensued.

3:16-4:30 p.m.- Electronic Interviews
While the journalists are treated to an ice cream social, the players trek upstairs for Round Two, which entails conducting video interviews with local and national TV networks, including ESPN, Fox Sports, Raycom and Comcast Sports Net.

The pair spends 10 minutes in each room, taking turns in front of the camera at every stop. While the TV questions are not quite as direct as those of the print media -Verica was asked to describe “what smell he associates with gameday” to which the quarterback responded, “The overwhelming scent of grass.”

4:31-5:45 p.m.- Radio Interviews
With two rounds down, the players head back downstairs, grabbing extra water bottles and looking forward to finishing the three-ring circus.

The radio segment is the least stressful of the three, as the Cavaliers spend only a couple of minutes at each table, donning a headset and providing a few live sound bites to various radio outlets that operate within the ACC footprint.

While both Verica and Dowling bore the media brunt well, the end of the afternoon finds the pair slumped on a hallway couch, looking forward to a much-needed rest in their rooms before dinner.

“Sometimes you forget what to say you get asked so much,” Dowling said.

Although the cornerback might feel that’s the case, Daves received compliments on both players’ efforts.

“Both players were great representatives for Virginia,” Daves said. “Several members of the media told me they did a very good job. A year ago this would have been a more challenging experience for Ras-I, but he has worked very hard to make himself a better public speaker because it is something he enjoys doing in the community. Marc has never had problem filling up a reporter’s notebook. He is very insightful and doesn’t rely on using clichés as answers.”

Before heading upstairs, the two stop by the press tables to pick up some light reading, grabbing a copy of each team’s media guide.

“These are for my dad,” Dowling said. “He’ll read these.”

7:00-7:30 p.m. – Reception
Refreshed after some downtime in their room, Dowling and Verica spend time on the back lawn, socializing and posing for pictures with various media members and ACC staff and bowl representatives before heading to dinner.

While sampling the coconut chicken h’ordeuvres, Dowling has time to recall the worst question he was asked by a reporter earlier-“What question have you not been asked today that you would like to be asked?”

7:30-8:30 p.m.- Dinner
Moving into a large ballroom for dinner, Verica and Dowling pile up their plates at the buffet before heading to their designated table. Players from each team, as well as their coaches, are assigned seats, while the other dinner attendees filter in around them; in this case, familiar company joins the Cavaliers, as Athletics Director Craig Littlepage and his wife, Margaret, sit with them.

After enjoying their chicken and steak, Dowling, Verica, and the rest of the ballroom are shown the debut of Raycom’s football promotional video, titled “Loud,” by recording artist Bridgette Tatum.

The audience then listens attentively to a quick presentation by emcee Tim Brandt, Commissioner Swofford, and the conference’s bowl committee chairperson.

Dowling and Verica wind down from the day’s events by joining the other players in their own special hospitality room, playing EA Sports College Football for Playstation 3, before retiring to their rooms.

Instead of staying Monday morning and taking part in the event’s free golf clinic, the Cavaliers decide to hit the road early in hopes of getting back to Charlottesville in time for class and an afternoon workout. After all, as Verica put it, he and Dowling are like “ambassadors for UVa,” and media day responsibilities are just one small part of their duty to the Virginia program.

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