By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the final nine games of last season, and all 15 practices this spring, Dominique Wallace had to watch UVa’s other tailbacks carry the football.
No longer is Wallace on the outside looking in, and that’s good news for the Cavaliers. UVa’s medical staff cleared him for full participation early last month, and the former Chancellor High star went through the first preseason practice Friday with the rest of the team.
“I’m just out here like everybody, like all the other running backs, trying to get the starting spot,” Wallace said afterward.
As a true freshman last season, Wallace was on the verge of winning the starting job when, in the Wahoos’ third game, after carrying 11 times for 35 yards, he limped off the field at Southern Mississippi.
He didn’t return. An operation was needed to repair a Lisfranc fracture in his foot — the same injury that had sidelined tailbacks Wali Lundy (in 2005) and Cedric Peerman (in 2007) during their UVa careers — and Wallace missed the rest of the season.
Fortunately for Wallace, the NCAA granted him a hardship waiver; he’d appeared in only three games, all early in the season.
“That was kind of the best thing,” Wallace said Friday. “I wished it didn’t happen, but it kind of happened at the perfect time. I got my medical redshirt, so now I have four more years to play football.”
Virginia’s depth chart at tailback could not be much more crowded this summer. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s options include Wallace, true freshman Kevin Park, sophomores Perry Jones and Torrey Mack, and fifth-year seniors Keith Payne and Raynard Horne.
“I don’t really see any pressure,” Wallace said. “It just makes it better for competition, because when you compete, it brings out the best in everybody.”
When Wallace arrived at UVa last summer, Al Groh was head coach. Virginia dismissed Groh after the 2009 season — the ‘Hoos finished 3-9 — and hired Mike London. The Cavaliers’ offense has changed too. Lazor has installed a pro-style scheme that emphasizes the running game.
Wallace attended meetings and diligently studied the playbook in the spring, but his foot wasn’t healed enough for him to actually practice.
That set Wallace back, Lazor said, but “that’s happened before [to other players]. Catching up is something that can be done. It takes a little extra sometimes, but it seems to me like he’s ready to do it.”
Injured players can still “keep up with the mental part, which I thought he did a great job of,” Lazor said. “Every guy reacts a little different physically, but as long as they do what’s expected of them, you gotta believe that it’s going to come eventually, and I’m hopeful it comes soon for him.
“I’m just looking forward to watching him day after day, to see how he moves and how he learns. The only way to know is to see it.”
The 6-0 Wallace is in superb shape. He weighs 210 pounds, 20 fewer than when he enrolled at the University last summer, and he’s faster, too.
Nobody told him to slim down, Wallace said. “That was my personal goal, because I felt when I was in high school, my best year — I know it wasn’t my best year yardage-wise, but it was my best year the way I felt running and stuff — I was like 210, 215.”
He admits that, at home in Fredericksburg, he didn’t train as hard in his final months of high school as he should have.
“I would have come in in better shape if I would have known that it was going to be that much,” Wallace said. “I did the workouts, but I didn’t do them as vigorously as they [do them] here. Because here they basically work you to your full potential. But when you’re training on your own and there’s no one around, you’re not going to go to your 100 percent full max. I just didn’t work as hard as I could have.”
That’s no longer an issue for Wallace. With so many others at his position, though, working his way back up the depth chart won’t be easy. He’s not alone in that regard.
“I hope that the guys feel a great sense of urgency in this competition,” Lazor said, “because real fast decisions will have to start being made about reps. So every single day we evaluate and go from there.”
UVa’s first five practices are open to the public. No. 2 starts at 3:45 p.m. Saturday on the practice fields behind University. The practices Sunday, Monday and Tuesday also will start at 3:45 p.m.
PERPETUAL MOTION: During his two stints as a UVa assistant, London worked on the defensive side. He’s equally interested in the offense now.
“I’m an equal opportunity employer. I’m all over the place now,” London said before practice. “I want to see the progress that everyone made that’s stayed over the summer and some of the areas we need to improve on, so I’ll be all over.”
ROSTER MANAGEMENT: A year ago, Drew Jarrett kicked most of Virginia’s extra points, and Robert Randolph attempted all of the field goals (making 17 of 19).
London and his special-teams coordinator, Anthony Poindexter, would prefer to have one kicker handle both jobs. If Randolph is up to the challenge, London said, Jarrett might redshirt this season. That would make Randolph a senior and Jarrett a redshirt sophomore in 2011.
Junior Chris Hinkebein is the leading candidate to kick off for UVa again this fall.
TEMPORARY SITUATION: Six scholarship players practiced at quarterback Friday. That won’t be the case throughout training camp. At least one of these three true freshmen — Mike Rocco, Jake McGee and Miles Gooch — is likely to change positions.
“We’ll make that determination early on,” London said. “We got a game in less than a month, so if some of the skills stand out that warrant one of the younger quarterbacks to continue to get looks, then we’ll do that. If not, then we’ll take the other two and move them to another position or let one stay and be the scout-team quarterback and continue to develop his quarterback skills.
“The learning curve’s going to hit rather quickly here, and if they can do it, and they show promise, then we’ll keep them in the mix. But if not, then we’re going to move on and put them at other positions or let one soak and see how it goes.”
BMOC: The largest player on the team? It’s not close. Offensive tackle Morgan Moses, a true freshman who was a Parade All-American as a Meadowbrook High senior in 2008, is listed at 6-6, 350 pounds on the preseason roster.
Several coaches and players from Meadowbrook were on hand Friday to watch Moses go through his first college practice. Moses played for the postgraduate team at Fork Union Military Academy last fall.
“It feels good,” Moses said. “I got here on June 13th with my roommate, Kevin Parks, and we’ve just been pushing each other every day, [trying] to get our bodies right.”
Did he pause at some point Friday and remind himself that, after a long journey to Charlottesville, he’s finally a college football player?
“I kind of got that out of the way the first month I was here,” Moses said with a smile. “It was exciting, like, ‘I got my new locker. I got my name on it.’ It was exciting, but I couldn’t stay in that stage too long, because I had to get focused.”
UP IN THE AIR: Hunter Steward, a 6-7, 285-pound redshirt freshman, is now at defensive tackle. But whether he’ll be able to play — or even practice — this fall will depend on Steward’s final summer-school grades, London said.
Steward worked at offensive tackle in practice last fall and in the spring this year.