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By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — With no fanfare, Jedd Moore strode onto the wrestling mat Jan. 16 to take on University of Pennsylvania 165-pounder Stephen Burak.

Moore’s presence in UVa’s lineup held greater significance than many in the crowd at Memorial Gym that day probably realized. The redshirt sophomore from Mount Vernon, Ohio, was competing in his first match in some 21 months, finally healthy after a frustrating series of foot injuries.

“A lot of people when they redshirt and take a year off, they go to [the U.S. Olympic Training Center in] Colorado Springs or they wrestle in 40 open tournament matches,” Virginia coach Steve Garland said. “Jedd couldn’t do that, because he was physically unable to do so.

“We’re talking a huge layoff mentally, psychologically, physically, everything.”

Against Burak, whom InterMat ranks No. 18 nationally in the 165-pound class, Moore lost 4-2. Rust played a role in his defeat. Had his competitive edge been sharper, Moore said later, the outcome might well have been different.

Still, the experience “was good for the most part,” Moore said. “Losing obviously wasn’t what I expected, but it was still good to get out there and compete.”

In his second match that day, Moore needed only 43 seconds to pin VMI’s Ted Gottwald. “I think the jitters were gone,” Moore said.

Five days later, he made a triumphant return to ACC competition, beating Kyle Kiss 7-2 to help UVa pummel North Carolina 28-6 in a dual meet at Chapel Hill.

Next up for 32nd-ranked Virginia is a dual meet with No. 9 Rutgers, which routed Virginia Tech 24-7 last week. The Cavaliers (14-5) host the Scarlet Knights (18-1) at 6 p.m. Friday at Mem Gym.

Having Moore back “is a big deal, just because of the way he competes,” Garland said. “We’re actually in the process of downloading his match from the Chapel Hill match onto our Facebook page, because people miss seeing the way he wrestles, the way he goes so hard and he never stops and he always wears the other guy out and he’s so explosive.”

Moore was a two-time state champion in high school at 152 pounds. As a Virginia freshman in 2008-09, he finished third in the ACC and advanced to the NCAAs at 157 pounds. In April 2009, however, he suffered a Lisfranc sprain of his right foot while wrestling at a freestyle tournament in Las Vegas.

Doctors also discovered three stress fractures in his foot, Moore said. The bones healed, but the Lisfranc injury continued to bother him, and he had surgery in August 2009.

“They pretty much just put two anchors and a wire in my foot to kind of stabilize that joint in my foot,” Moore said.

The operation made Moore’s decision to redshirt in 2009-10 an obvious one. At first, his rehab went well, and by last January “I was back on the mat and getting back into it,” Moore recalled, “and I felt fine all through the spring.”

Last summer, though, the pain returned — in part because of the hardware in his foot — and Moore spent about two months in a walking boot. He then resumed training, only to experience more problems about a month before Virginia’s first dual meet.

Another operation followed, this one to remove the hardware. Problem solved, right? Moore wishes that had been the case.

Opening day for the ‘Hoos was Nov. 6, when they faced Anderson, Rider and Gardner-Webb, respectively, in dual meets. Moore was on mat that morning, warming up, when more trouble arose.

“They weren’t going to wrestle me all three matches,” he said. “They were going to wrestle me one or two to see how it felt. I felt a little pop, and it ended up being a stress fracture, one of my metatarsals, my right foot again.”

Doctors told Moore that the “foot just wasn’t used to that stress,” he said. “They said you really couldn’t have predicted that to happen. I was wrestling that whole week before, and everything felt fine.”

Back into a boot went Moore, who is as taciturn as UVa’s coach is loquacious. (“To hear a full sentence come out of him in a week is a blessing,” Garland said.)

Moore was on crutches for a while, too, but it was mostly a matter of letting the bone heal and then slowly progressing from there. He was cleared last month to return to practice.

He was nervous warming up for the Penn match, Moore admits, given what had happened on Nov. 6. He felt fine during and after the match, though, and “I don’t have to worry about that any more, hopefully. It restores some confidence … Once I get a few matches, I feel like all that rust will knock off pretty quick. I don’t really feel I’ve lost anything as far as technique.”

Garland said: “God willing, if he can stay healthy now, he’ll just keep getting better each match. Because let’s face it, he just needs reps, he just needs matches.”

Virginia is still without star 141-pounder Nick Nelson (6-0), who has been out since mid-November with an elbow injury. His absence is another reason the defending ACC champion Cavaliers have not been as powerful as expected this season.

“When we lost Nelson, it wasn’t just the fact that we lost a good wrestler that’s going to get a lot of wins,” Garland said. “We lost a guy that with the way he competes set a tone for the rest of our program. He goes so darn hard that that not only gets psychologically in the other team’s head, it fires our guys up.

“We feel like Jedd is the exact same way. That’s what it was such a big loss not having those two in the lineup this year, because it is a mental thing.

“When you get in dual meets, it’s all about momentum, and when you’ve got these guys flying around the mat, it’s huge, win or lose. Because, heck, they’re going to lose some matches. But when they do, it’s the way that they compete that fires the bench up anyway.”

Nelson should return well before the ACC championships, March 5 at John Paul Jones Arena. In the meantime, Garland is delighted to have Moore back.

The Cavaliers’ fifth-year coach loves to tell the story of his recruiting visit to Moore’s home in Ohio. Moore ultimately chose UVa over Ohio State.

“He lives an hour past Columbus,” Garland said. “Well, we flew into Columbus, and we drive to his house. He lives in the middle of nowhere. You hear that all the time, but this is the middle of nowhere. And we pull up, and there’s like this little farmhouse, with the big field in the back with the barns, and there’s some cattle and some stuff, and you walk into Jedd’s room, and he’s got a crossbow and kettlebells and Russian throw dummies. And sandbags on the front porch.”

Garland laughed.

“That’s the kid you want in your program,” he said. “That’s a pretty tough son of a gun there.”

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