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By Cayce Troxel, Virginia Athletics Media Relations

On August 26, 2007, 16-year-old Austin Pasztor boarded a bus near his hometown in Ontario, Canada. Along with his Canadian all-star team teammates, Pasztor was bound for Fork Union, Va., where the squad was scheduled to take on Fork Union Military Academy in a scrimmage the following day.

What was originally just a 12-hour bus ride turned into something much more for Pasztor. One new country, four years, three collegiate seasons, and nearly 40 Division I starts later, and the ride has yet to come to a stop for the brawny Canadian.

“It’s definitely all been a whirlwind,” Pasztor said.

Now a veteran and four-year starter for the Cavaliers’ at offensive guard, Pasztor has condensed his ‘whirlwind’ affair with American football into just a few sentences:

“We went down to play against Fork Union Military Academy. Coach Shuman, the Fork Union coach, saw me and asked me if I wanted to go to school there,” Pasztor said. “I did my senior year of high school there and then was recruited by Virginia. And that’s basically how I got to Charlottesville.”

In it’s unabridged form though, the story is a little more complicated than that. For Pasztor to even make that fated bus ride, a phone call had to be made first.

“It was kind of crazy,” Fork Union head coach John Shuman reflected. “Back in the spring of 2007, I got this call from a guy who had this all-star team-Peter Zonka was his name. He said, ‘I’d like to bring my team down and scrimmage you guys.’ I just thought it was kind of odd and maybe even a hoax.”

At any rate, the Fork Union coach agreed to the scrimmage. A few months passed though, and Shuman forgot about the scheduling promise. That is, until the end of August, when he got another call from Zonka. The Canadian coach informed Shuman that his squad would be coming down that Friday. They would stay in the barracks, practice one day, then scrimmage the next.

“They came in and they were young and they were big,” Shuman said. “They were just as big as Austin. They had 15 or 16 guys as big as Austin.”

One crash course in American football later, however, and the now 6-7, 310-pound Pasztor had separated himself from the rest of his teammates.

“It was his size and also his intensity,” Shuman said. “He played both sides of the ball and held up pretty well against our guys that year. We were like, ‘We’ve got to jump on this fellow.'”

That they did. Immediately after the scrimmage, Shuman met with Pasztor along with the team’s nose guard and invited both to come play at Fork Union. Although his teammate declined the offer, Pasztor was interested. Before accepting, however, he had to get the consent of his parents.

“I thought that they would point me in one direction or the other-kind of say, ‘We want you to go,’ or, ‘We don’t want you to go'” Pasztor said. “But they just said, ‘If this is what you want to do, then go ahead. If not, we’re fine if you stay here, too.’ I think they knew it was probably better for me.”

With his parents’ approval, Pasztor scrambled to get his passport and papers in order. Already two days into his senior year of high school in Canada, he withdrew from classes and hit the road.

“My classmates were a little confused, but they all knew I really enjoyed playing football,” Pasztor said. “Everyone knows that if you’re serious about football, then the United States is where you want to be.”
Just 10 days after the scrimmage, the lineman was again unpacking his bags in the barracks-this time for good.

“I didn’t really realize all of the things I was getting myself into,” Pasztor said. “The first couple of weeks I was just trying to figure out what was going on. Class had already started for them so I was trying to catch up in class. I was trying to catch up on the football field because they had already gone through camp and played a couple games. I was super busy.”

While Pasztor may have been behind his teammates in terms of game experience, on an even more basic level, he was also lacking in general American football knowledge. Pasztor downplays the difference between the American and Canadian games, saying both require the same mindset and set of skills of offensive linemen; nevertheless, he still had to learn a whole new set of rules-and a new playbook-to succeed at Fork Union.

“Learning the plays was one of the hardest things for me,” Pasztor said. “We had mandatory study hall at Fork Union for two hours every night, and I would just sit there with note cards and draw up the plays over and over again.”

“What we really liked about Austin was that when he figured out he was behind in something-some kind of drill or technique-he would go out and work it around the clock,” Shuman said. “He would work it on the sideline where our defense was practicing and do some extra work with the coaches. He was always on our indoor sled, trying to get better. He was always working on his footwork.”

With such a mentality, it is no surprise that Pasztor thrived during his senior season at Fork Union. That being said, his post-high school future was not always as inevitable. With only one playing season in the United States under his belt, Pasztor was largely overlooked by colleges who had already filled their recruiting class. Shuman, however, took matters into his own hands.

“I took his tape over to Al Groh, who was the head coach at Virginia at the time, and those guys, and they said, ‘We’ve got to have this guy,'” Shuman said. “Nearly 40 starts later, and Austin’s reaping the benefits.”

Thrust into a starting role five games into his freshman season after an injury to a teammate, Pasztor has not relinquished his spot at the top of the Virginia depth chart since. Despite his hold on the offensive left guard position, the Canadian-turned-Cavalier has resisted the temptation to become complacent. Pasztor was awarded the Rock Weir Award, given to the team’s most improved player, at the end of spring practice this year; and during the team’s offseason, the lineman dropped 15 pounds in hopes of improving his speed.

“I just tried to put everything into every rep,” Pasztor said. “There’s a level of effort where the coach won’t say anything to you. You’re working hard enough so you’re fine. But I just took it to another level. I set my own standard for how hard I wanted to work in a practice.”

Now four games into his senior season at Virginia, Pasztor is hopeful that standard will be enough to extend his football career beyond college-preferably in the NFL, although the lineman would be open to playing in the Canadian Football League. While Pasztor’s future may be in doubt, one thing is for sure: it has been one tremendous ride getting there.

“It’s gone too fast,” Pasztor said. “Honestly, when I was a freshman, I didn’t think I’d ever be a senior. Each year went faster and faster though. Now I’m a senior and I can’t believe it. I was always playing football when I was a kid, but it’s never been as much fun as it is now.”

When Pasztor finally does move on, Coach London and his staff will have to find a new offensive left guard for the first time in four years. As Shuman has found, such a task is easier said than done.

“I’ve gone up to Canada and done a few combines since then,” Shuman said. “When I go up there, I tell the guy, ‘I’m looking for the next Austin Pasztor. I don’t want to look at anyone else.’ I’m looking for the big, tall, smart kind of kid. He’s our prototype. So far, no one’s lived up to his standard.”

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