By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Since the end of the 2009 season, Al Groh’s last as UVa’s football coach, players who have left the Cavaliers’ program with eligibility remaining include Billy Cuffee, Klinton Ruff, Corey Lillard, Dominique Wallace, Quintin Hunter, Javanti Sparrow, Tory Allen-Ford, Javaris Brown, Riko Smalls and Lamar Milstead.
Some failed to make the grade academically. Some left for personal reasons. Others weren’t willing to meet the standards established by Groh’s successor, Mike London, who dismissed them.
In the long term, London said Sunday night, his program will benefit from being filled with players who share the same goals and embrace his philosophy. In the short term, he acknowledged, the departures have taken a toll on a UVa team that, with two games left, is trying to avoid finishing below .500 for the fourth time in five seasons.
“You lose some of that depth, you lose some of that speed, you lose some of that athleticism,” London said. “But it’s my feeling that I’m going to gain it on the back end of trying to build this team and trying to put it together with players that are going to be able to do what I’m asking them to do in the classroom, on the field and in the community.”
Some of the players who left probably would have been on the two-deep this season, London said. In their absence, players who might not be talented enough or experienced enough have been thrust into the rotation.
Still, London said, he’s confident the decisions he made before his first season at UVa will ultimately pay dividends.
“That’s just something that I feel I had to do, and I feel better much about doing it, because I know in the long run we’re going to be a better team because of it,” he said. “We’re going to recruit, and we’re going to have players that understand the philosophy and understand the demands of what I’m asking them to do.
“And so I think on the back end, when all this is said and done, that the team will be better. Right now we’re struggling because when you go to the next guy, the next guy might not necessarily be going into the season who the next guy could have been.”
Sparrow, a cornerback from Chesapeake, was in for 23 plays, all on special teams, as a true freshman last season. When he left the University after the 2009-10 academic year, Sparrow indicated to London that he hoped to return in 2011.
London said Sunday night that his main concern this fall has been his 2010 team. Any decision to re-admit Sparrow would be made by the University, not the football staff.
“And so with that being the case, all I focus on are the bodies and the guys that I have,” London said. “Anything that occurs after the season, then I’ll have to deal with those personnel issues then. But right now I’m just dealing with the guys that can travel and play and go in the game.”
Virginia (1-5, 4-6) meets ACC rival Boston College (3-4, 5-5) at noon Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass. UVa closes the regular season Nov. 27 at Virginia Tech.
In each of their past two games, the Wahoos have blown a fourth-quarter lead. On Nov. 6, Virginia led Duke 48-47 but gave up a touchdown in the final minute and lost 55-48 in Durham, N.C.
A week later, against Maryland at Scott Stadium, UVa took a 23-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Terrapins rallied for a 42-23 victory.
Asked Sunday night what he wants to see from his players in the final two games, London said, “I’m looking for the fight. I’m looking for guys that are still playing hard. I’m looking for guys that are giving all-out effort. I’m looking for guys that are still hungry.”
The Cavaliers’ record is disappointing, London said, but they still can finish 6-6.
“You can still try to make something positive of the next game,” he said. “So I’m looking for guys that are looking for opportunities again to have a positive experience and experience a win.”
Late-season fades have become a trademark of UVa’s program, and London challenged his seniors to change that, to “go out winning and provide an example of that type of attitude so it carries on,” he said.
Look for Virginia’s coaches to substitute more liberally for the rest of the season.
“We had the discussion about that today, about getting more players in, instead of waiting for spring practice to come around and then they get their experience,” London said Sunday night. “So there’s going to be more of a concerted effort to play” such reserves as true freshman cornerback Rijo Walker, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Sean Cascarano, sophomore defensive end Billy Schautz and sophomore defensive tackle Will Hill.
The coaching staff also wants to see more of true freshman Michael Rocco and redshirt freshman Ross Metheny in game situations. They’ve been battling for the No. 2 spot at quarterback behind fifth-year senior Marc Verica.
Rocco replaced Verica after Maryland scored its final touchdown Saturday. In his only series, Rocco was 1 for 3 passing for 9 yards.
“Michael Rocco got in there and started out a little shaky, but that’s how you gotta develop,” London said. “So we will make conscious efforts to do that the next two games.”
One of the goals in practice this week, London said, will be to get Rocco and Metheny ready to “get in and manage a series or so, so we can ge a true evaluation [of them] once again.”