By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mike London isn’t the only Bethel High graduate in UVa’s football program.
The Cavaliers’ first-year players include Rijo Walker, who like his coach starred at the Hampton school.
Walker, a 5-10, 185-pound cornerback, is one of three true freshmen to have played for UVa this season. (The others are offensive lineman Morgan Moses and quarterback Michael Rocco.)
Two of Virginia’s top four corners — Ras-I Dowling and Mike Parker — are seniors, which means Walker is likely to crack the two-deep in the secondary next season. For now, though, he plays primarily on special teams.
“He’s coming along well,” London said Thursday. “He’s hungry. He’s willing to learn. He’s a sponge. He soaks everything up.”
Walker’s role has expanded since the start of the season, London said, and he’s now part of four special-teams units: kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt returns.
“Rijo has done a really nice job,” London said. “He’s played in big games, and he’s run against other gunners or receivers or people that he’s had to block. He’s made tackles in open space, knows the things that you want defensive backs, whether they’re safeties or corners, to do. So it won’t be a shock to him as we go into spring practice next year.
“To me, and if you ask him now, it was a good decision to play him. He feels pretty good about it. And now we’ve got to do our due diligence and make sure that we have him on track to graduate and get his degree from here.”
For the season, Walker has made two tackles and recovered a fumble.
UVa (0-3, 3-4) hosts No. 22 Miami (3-1, 5-2) in an ACC game Saturday afternoon. On the Cavaliers’ depth chart, Rocco is listed as a co-No. 2, with redshirt freshman Ross Metheny, but the nephew of Liberty coach Danny Rocco was the first quarterback off the bench last weekend against Eastern Michigan.
Moses is expected to start for the third straight week, though his position may depend on Landon Bradley’s status.
Bradley, a two-year starter at left offensive tackle, hasn’t played since breaking his right hand Oct. 9 against Georgia Tech. He’s been practicing this week but was listed as questionable for the Miami game on the injury report UVa released Thursday night.
“His desire, want-to and will to play is there,” London said.
Moses played right guard versus Georgia Tech but, with Bradley out, started at right tackle against North Carolina and Eastern Michigan. Oday Aboushi moved to left tackle from his customary spot on the right side.
“Landon’s ability to play on either side, left or right, and feel comfortable and then be effective will then affect where those other guys are,” London said. “But again, we’ll put the best combination in on Saturday when it’s time to play.
“For him, it’s going to be just tolerating the pain. The guy’s got screws and pins in his hand, and you’ve got to use your hands to block. A lot of that’s going to be predicated on his ability to fight through that.”