By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A football season in which UVa’s Ras-I Dowling never got completely healthy is now over for the senior cornerback from Chesapeake.
Dowling, who was considered an All-America candidate coming into the season, fractured his left ankle about six minutes into the game Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium. He’ll miss the Cavaliers’ final two games, UVa announced Monday.
“It’s unfortunate, because he’s such a great young man, great captain, great leader,” Virginia coach Mike London told reporters at John Paul Jones Arena.
Dowling probably would have been picked in one of the first two rounds had he entered the 2009 NFL draft. But he chose to return to UVa for his senior year, in part because he wanted to become the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
At 6-2, 205 pounds, Dowling has a rare combination of size and speed, and he made the all-ACC second team as a junior. He hurt his hamstring in training camp this year, however, and missed the first two games of the season. He played in the next three and started Oct. 9 against Georgia Tech, but then struggled with a knee injury.
He missed the North Carolina game on Oct. 16, played one series against Eastern Michigan a week later and then sat out Virginia’s games against ACC foes Miami (Oct. 30) and Duke (Nov. 6). Dowling started against Maryland on Saturday — Senior Day at Scott Stadium — but fell to the ground, clutching his left leg, at the end of a play with 9:23 left in the first quarter.
His hard luck this season notwithstanding, Dowling “still has a bright football future ahead of him,” London said. “Just saw him a few minutes ago, and he’s upbeat. Ras-I is prayerful, and his faith is very meaningful to him, and he’s looking at this as just a tiny setback moving forward. We wish him the best in his recovery, and I know he’ll be ready come his pro day in April.”
Dowling finished his abbreviated season with 15 tackles and one pass break-up.
Whether Dowling’s injury will require surgery is unclear, London said, but “he’ll be ready for his pro day, and I think he’ll do outstanding things in his pro day to warrant the first-round tag that a lot of people put on him initially. He’ll be ready — bigger, faster, stronger — for that.”
Of the team’s five captains, two are out with season-ending injuries: Dowling and senior tight end Joe Torchia, who played in only four games before a shoulder injury forced him to have surgery.
Another starter, junior offensive tackle Landon Bradley, suffered a season-ending knee injury at Duke — that, after missing the previous three games with a broken hand — and will have surgery Tuesday.
Dowling wasn’t the only Cavalier hurt against in the 42-23 loss to Maryland. UVa’s top two tailbacks, Perry Jones and Keith Payne, left the game late in the second quarter and early in the fourth, respectively. Jones, a sophomore, appeared to get hit in the head on a kickoff. London said Payne, a fifth-year senior, had a “lower-leg injury.”
Virginia (1-5, 4-6) plays ACC rival Boston College (3-4, 5-5) in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Saturday afternoon.
Between them, Jones and Payne have rushed for 1,309 yards this season. Asked Monday about their availability for the BC game, London said, “I’m optimistic about Perry Jones, and I’m guarded, but optimistic, about Keith. They’re two significant parts in our offensive approach.
“They’ll be on the plane on Friday going to Boston College, put it that way.”