By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The 2010 season was Scott Wachenheim’s 22nd in coaching. He’s worked with offensive linemen in 20 of those seasons, at such schools as Rice, Liberty, Utah State, Colorado and Arkansas.
Wachenheim enjoyed coaching tight ends, first for the Washington Redskins in 2009 and then for UVa in 2010, but he’s happiest teaching the finer points of offensive line play. And so when Ron Mattes left last month for Elon University, Mike London didn’t have to look far to find the Cavaliers’ next O-line coach.
“It’s great to get back,” Wachenheim, a former offensive tackle at the Air Force Academy, said recently in his McCue Center office.
“I really enjoy coaching all five guys. I think we have a good group of young men coming back, and I’m looking forward to continuing the tradition of great offensive line play at the University of Virginia.”
Five linemen return who started at least five games apiece in 2010: tackles Oday Aboushi and Landon Bradley, center Anthony Mihota, guard Austin Pasztor and Morgan Moses, who has played both guard and tackle. Top reserves include Luke Bowanko, Sean Cascarano and Matt Mihalik.
“Good group of young men,” Wachenheim said. “I think we can be very, very good.”
His boss agrees. On national signing day last month, London called it a “line that I think arguably could be the best in the ACC when they’re all back and healthy.”
Wachenheim said: “It’s tough for me to compare them with the other groups, because I don’t study the other offensive lines in the ACC. I study the ACC defenses. But I think we have a really good group of offensive linemen.”
Not all of them will be available when the Cavaliers open spring practice next Wednesday. Moses is recovering from mononucleosis, Wachenheim said, and Bradley had two offseason operations that will limit his workload this spring.
“He won’t be padded up, ready to go,” Wachenheim said. “He’ll be working with [athletic trainer] Kelli [Pugh] mostly, but he’ll do some things. We’ll try and make him more versatile and have him snap with the quarterbacks in the seven-on-seven drills, if he’s cleared to do so by the doctors. Just so he’s versatile, in case something happens, because you always want your linemen to be able to move.”
When spring practice begins, Wachenheim said, his first-team line will consist of Mihota at center, Pasztor at left guard, Bowanko at right guard, Aboushi at left tackle, and Cascarano at right tackle.
The No. 2 line: walk-ons John Maghamez and John Goss, plus Bowanko, at center; Cody Wallace at left guard; Mihalik at right guard; walk-on Nick Koutris at left tackle; and Conner Davis at right tackle. Cascarano also will rotate in at right tackle.
Mihota, Bradley and Pasztor will be seniors in the fall. Aboushi and Mihalik will be juniors; Moses, Bowanko and Cascarano, sophomores; Wallace and Davis, redshirt freshmen.
“You look at the teams that are really good on the offensive line, year in and year out, they’re usually starting three seniors and two juniors,” Wachenheim said. “And usually they’re redshirt seniors and redshirt juniors. And so if you’re doing that, and you’re constantly developing a group that is underneath them, then that’s really where you want to be. Sometimes you don’t have that. Sometimes, for whatever reason — injuries, attrition — you have to step down and play a younger player. But you’re always trying to work the next group up.”
An injury has ended reserve guard Aaron Van Kuiken’s football career, Wachenheim said, and backup center Mike Price was one of three UVa players suspended indefinitely last month for conduct detrimental to the team. But Bowanko, Cascarano and Mihalik “are three talented guys that, when those three seniors leave, are ready to step up and, I think, fill up the slack,” Wachenheim said.
Four offensive linemen signed with UVa last month — Ross Burbank, Tim Cwalina, Kelby Johnson and Jay Whitmire — and Wachenheim hopes to redshirt them in the fall.
“But if they’re ready to play and they’re in the two-deep,” he said, “we’ll play ’em.”
After London was hired at UVa in December 2009, he assembled a staff that included three coaches who had been college offensive coordinators: Wachenheim, Bill Lazor and Mike Faragalli. Lazor holds that title at Virginia, but from the start he has welcomed the input of Wachenheim and Faragalli, who coaches the running backs.
“I think our whole staff worked together,” Wachenheim said. “Between Coach Lazor and myself, Coach Faragalli and Coach Mattes, we were all intimately involved in every blocking scheme we had. Certainly Ron and I would talk about different calls that we made and different schemes and different ways to block things.”
Don’t expect to see dramatic changes up front this year.
“Coach London has a philosophy on what he wants the offensive line to be: tough, physical, hard-nosed blockers that can establish the line of scrimmage,” Wachenheim said. “Coach Lazor has the same thoughts. Coach Mattes and I had the same beliefs. Both of us played O-line. Both of us loved to run the football. Both of us want to protect the passer. I think we’re about as united as two guys could be.”
Moses said: “The transition is going to be real good. Coach Wach is a good coach, and in his previous years of coaching, he has coached the O-line, and a tight end is nothing but an outside lineman that’s catching passes.”
As a true freshman last season, the 6-6, 345-pound Moses started six games at right tackle and another game at right guard. His position this year is yet to be determined. B.J. Cabbell, who started 11 games at right guard in 2010, was a senior, so that vacancy must be filled.
“What I’ve always thought, and I know what Coach London thinks and what Coach Lazor thinks, is that the five best [offensive linemen] play,” Wachenheim said. “So if Morgan Moses is the best right tackle we have, that’s where he’ll play. If he’s the second-best right tackle, then we’re probably talk with him and move him to right guard. To me it’s an ongoing evaluation process on how we get the best five players on the field.”
London has not said publicly which member — or members — of his staff will oversee the tight ends this year. The Cavaliers’ most productive tight ends last season, Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman, will be juniors in the fall.
Joe Torchia, who was a fifth-year senior, entered 2010 as UVa’s No. 1 tight end, but a shoulder injury ended his college career in early October.
With Torchia out, Phillips “had to step up with everything that was going on in his personal life,” Wachenheim said. “Every game, as he went on, he played better. I’ve never coached a tight end, or any player, in 22 years of coaching, that improved more than Colt Phillips did as the season progressed. So there’s a lot of pride, there’s a lot of fun in coaching a young man that gets better every week.
“Then the same thing with Paul Freedman. As he started rotating in and playing, he just got better every week, and you just saw the confidence grow. And you see him working now, and you see a totally different kid.”
There are three other talented tight ends in the program: Jake McGee and Zach Swanson, who will be redshirt freshmen in the fall, and rising sophomore Jeremiah Mathis, who moved from defensive end to tight end early last season.
“I’m going to miss those kids, because not only are they good football players, they’re really good people,” Wachenheim said. “Every day you want to walk into that meeting room. It’s a joy to coach. But you know, I’m not far away from them, and I’ll still be working with them some. The tight ends work with the O-line a lot.”