By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As a true freshman in 2009, Tim Smith caught 15 passes for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns for UVa.
Smith won’t match those totals in 2010, because his second season has ended prematurely. The 6-0, 185-pound wide receiver will have season-ending surgery on his injured ankle Thursday, UVa announced Monday.
A graduate of Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High, Smith played in Virginia’s first two games this season, catching 3 passes for 28 yards and carrying once, for 16 yards. That he wasn’t 100 percent was apparent, however, and doctors determined last week that Smith needed surgery.
Smith is eligible for a hardship waiver and will be classified as a redshirt sophomore next season.
Senior Dontrelle Inman and junior Kris Burd have established themselves as the Cavaliers’ top two wideouts. Burd had to redshirt as a freshman in 2007 after having back surgery, so he can empathize with Smith.
“I pulled Tim aside, I think last week, and talked to him, because I’d seen him down a little bit,” Burd recalled Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “I told him, ‘You’re a young player. You’re going to have a long career here. Yeah, you want to play this year, but you’ve got to think about your career down the road.’ I tell him every time before the game, ‘We’re going to go out and make plays for you. Just stay positive.’ ”
Junior wideouts Jared Green and Matt Snyder are the leading candidates to fill the void created by Smith’s injury.
“When Tim went down, for us as a receiving corps it was a reality that somebody was going to have to step up and be that guy,” Burd said. “We’re just excited to see what’s going to happen this week and who’s going to step up in practice and declare himself the No. 3 receiver.”
SEA OF WHITE: UVa (2-1) opens ACC play Saturday by hosting Florida State (1-0, 3-1) at Scott Stadium. Fans who attend the noon game will receive free white T-shirts.
“What is most important is that it’s our conference opener, and it’s at home,” said Mike London, the Cavaliers’ first-year coach. “The other things that are going on behind the game, with the ‘white-out’ and raising the awareness within the community and the students, are also important. But to us, it’s a chance again to play in front of our home crowd, play to get better, have a better performance from all three aspects: offense, defense and special teams.
“We want to establish a culture of trying to play competitively and to win some games.”
Fifteen years ago this November, FSU suffered its first loss in the ACC. The opponent was UVa, which prevailed 33-28 at Scott Stadium when Anthony Poindexter, then a redshirt freshman playing out of position at linebacker, and safety Adrian Burnim teamed to stop Seminoles tailback Warrick Dunn inches from the goal line on the game’s final play.
“It comes up more than I would like it too,” said Poindexter, a former All-America safety who now coaches that position and coordinates special teams for Virginia.
“Obviously, at that age — I was probably 18 years old the night of that game — I didn’t realize the magnitude of what had happened. I just thought, ‘Hey, we won a big game.’ But here, almost 15 years later, people are still talking about it as one of the greatest games of all time here. I’m proud to be a part of it — not only that play, but there were a lot of plays made that night to make that possible.”
Poindexter coached Virginia’s secondary last season, and his defensive backs, including cornerbacks Chase Minnifield and Ras-I Dowling, watched a videotape of the ’95 game.
“That was really the first time I’d seen Dex play,” Minnifield said Monday. “It seemed like a great atmosphere that he was playing in, and there was so much energy out there. I was telling Ras-I the other day, this is what I think about when I think of Florida State. I think of watching that tape and watching Dex play at that game and how much energy there was around Scott Stadium.”
LONG-TERM BENEFITS: UVa played without two of its best defensive backs, Dowling (hamstring) and junior safety Rodney McLeod (knee) in its first two games, a win over Richmond and a loss to USC.
Each had recovered enough to play Saturday against VMI, though neither started, and London expects both to be close to 100 percent for the FSU game.
With Dowling and McLeod out, sophomore cornerback Devin Wallace and senior safety Trey Womack moved into the starting lineup.
“I think it helped them tremendously,” Poindexter said. “You can do it all you want in practice against guys you know. Once the lights come on, you always want to see how these guys are going to react, especially on the back end, because you’re basically back there by yourself. To get them in the game, to get their feet wet, as a lot of people like to say, it’s been a tremendous benefit for us, and it’s only going to help us down the stretch.”
COACH KNOWS BEST: The highlight of UVa’s 48-7 win over VMI — at least for London’s team — was fifth-year senior Raynard Horne’s 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Not since 2004, when London was the Wahoos’ defensive line coach, had Virginia run back a kickoff for a score.
London said Horne had been hesitating earlier in the season, waiting for a hole to open. The coaching staff’s message to Horne was simple: “Just catch the ball and run straight downhill and allow the blockers to do their job,” London said.
Horne did as instructed against VMI, and lo and behold, he found himself in the end zone.
“After the game, he was like, ‘Coach, it was just like you said it was going to be,’ ” London said, smiling. “I’m like, ‘No duh. That’s the whole thing about coaching and trying to get you in a position to make plays. If you do this, you’ve got a chance.’ ”
Poindexter said: “We asked him just to go fast, man, just go fast and hit the hole, no matter what’s there. That takes a lot of trust in your coach … Ray trusted it, and he came over to the sideline [after the touchdown]. He’s like, ‘Coach, you were right.’ I was like, ‘Well, sometimes we are right. You just listen to us every now and again, you might get something done.’
“The first two weeks the kids were kind of picking and trying to feel it out and see if the hole was going to be there or not. And on kickoff return, you really can’t do that. You’ve just got to trust that your guy’s going to get the block and just run to that spot, run to that sweet spot. And if it’s there, it’s going to be a touchdown like it was on Saturday for Ray. If it isn’t there, well, good luck, you could get your helmet knocked off. That’s just how it goes. But I’m happy for Ray. That’s one of the biggest plays Ray has had in his career here. Hopefully we can keep this thing going.”
SPECIAL MOMENT: Colter Phillips is not one of the Cavaliers’ captains, but he was at midfield Saturday before the VMI game. London sent the sophomore tight end out with several captains for the coin toss.
“It’s not a permanent thing,” Phillips said Monday. “And I didn’t know till about three minutes before we went out that I was going out with the captains. It was fun to walk out there with everybody. I guess Coach London just wanted me to feel like I was a part of it.”
Phillips’ father, Bill, was killed in a plane crash in Alaska last month. Colter has three brothers, the youngest of whom, Willy, was seriously injured in the crash. His other two brothers also play college football — Andrew at Stanford, Paul at Indiana.
Colter left Grounds for about two weeks last month to be with his mother and brothers.
“Right after my dad died, I didn’t want to play,” Phillips said. “I’ll be completely honest. I didn’t want to play. I wanted to stay at home, and I wanted to be with my mom and my brothers. It wasn’t until my mom kind of made it clear that she didn’t want us to be at home, and wanted us to do everything that my dad would have wanted us to do, that I started to feel like it was kind of my duty that I had to go back and I had to play.
“Honestly, it’s the best thing for me. Football is a way of life for me. When I’m out on the field, I don’t have to think about anything. I can just be out there having fun with my teammates and my friends and all the coaches. It just kind of takes me out of reality for that 2½ hours or whatever that we’re out there. It’s definitely a very special thing for me, and I just appreciate the game even more having experienced what I’ve gone through.”
Phillips scored his first touchdown as a Cavalier on Saturday, on a 17-yard pass from Rocco.
Standing in the end zone with the ball, Phillips recalled, “I actually didn’t know what to do. I kind of looked back and saw the ref was giving me the good sign, and I kind of had to think about it for a second.”
When they reviewed video of the game Sunday, Phillips said, his teammates kidded him about “not knowing what to do, because I just kind of stood there with the ball, and everyone came up to me. But it was a fun time, and hopefully I’ll be seeing the end zone a few more times.”