By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He began his college career as a safety, now plays linebacker and can be found many nights studying game film at the McCue Center with defensive linemen.
Given that LaRoy Reynolds saw time at tailback, fullback, quarterback, tight end and wide receiver at Norfolk’s Maury High — as well as safety and linebacker — it should be no surprise that he’s stayed on the move since enrolling at UVa.
Reynolds, a 6-2, 230-pound junior who’s in his second year as a starter, has always run well. He’s running now, however, with a purpose, and his progress is among the reasons Virginia (2-2, 5-3) is in position to become bowl-eligible with a victory Saturday afternoon over ACC rival Maryland (1-4, 2-6) in College Park.
“He’s not out of control,” Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. “He’s out of control as he gets there, which is what we want, and then he gets balanced up, wraps up and makes the play. The guy is really working hard, very, very hard.”
Vincent Brown coaches the Cavaliers’ linebackers, and he’s seen Reynolds improve dramatically. A season ago — UVa’s first in the 4-3 defense that Mike London installed after replacing Al Groh as head coach — Reynolds led the team in tackles, with 66. But he was often out of position, especially on running plays, and his inconsistency mirrored that of the entire defense.
“He’s a conscientious young man,” Brown said, “and so he’s come up every week, every day, and studied the tape, and we’ve constantly reinforced to him those things that we’ve been doing for the past year and a half now, about being in control, being under balance, breaking down, and I think he’s starting to realize how good of a player he can be.
“He can be a very, very good player. He still has some things to work on, which they all do, but it’s starting to click for him, because he’s playing within the framework of the defense.”
As a true freshman in 2009, Reynolds was slotted at safety in Groh’s 3-4 defense. He was in for 98 plays that season, all on special teams. After London was hired in December 2009, he moved Reynolds to outside linebacker.
“It was a difficult transition,” Reynolds said this week, “just really understanding the position and understanding the technique of the position, because when [the new coaches] first got here they just told us to play fast and to play hard. And I know those are things that I can do. I was going to give great effort regardless, because it’s what I love to do. But just understanding the technique and the scheme of it [was difficult].”
Reynolds is second on the team in tackles this season, with 54 to middle linebacker Steve Greer’s 72. He still occasionally takes poor angles in pursuit — Reynolds was out of position on a third-and-23 screen pass that Southern Mississippi turned into a 41-yard gain Sept. 24 at Scott Stadium — but such breakdowns have become much less frequent for No. 9.
“Obviously my biggest thing this year was really being the playmaker that I feel like Coach London and the coaches need me to be,” said Reynolds, who has five tackles for loss.
When he arrived at UVa in 2009, Reynolds was a promising athlete who would not have described himself as a student of the game. That’s changed.
He understands now, Reynolds said, that “your will to prepare has to be greater than your will to win. That’s what the motto is, and that’s what I’ve been focusing on.”
Defensive tackle Nick Jenkins, a team captain, said Reynolds has “really taken it upon himself to be in there an extra hour and a half by himself every night watching film. He’s in there schooling himself on different reads, different packages, different schemes. And then when we go in there and watch film as a D-line, with [Matt] Conrath, Will Hill, myself, Jake Snyder, four out of the five nights a week LaRoy’s in there with us, just asking us questions about what gap we’re in, what blitz will we have on this blitz, and things like that.”
He watched film early in his college career too, Reynolds said, “but I didn’t understand it. I went to Coach Brown one day and asked him what I needed to do, how to really watch film, and he basically broke it down and made it a lot easier for me to understand.”
Chase Minnifield, UVa’s All-ACC cornerback, became another tutor.
“I talked to Chase, because Chase watches lots of film,” Reynolds recalled. “I asked him what he does as far as game-planning, and he breaks down everything. Coach Reid does that for us, but Chase told me just watching it again for yourself will help a lot, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Late nights, if I can come here at 9, 10 o’clock, I come just to watch film.”
Defensive line coach Jeff Hanson oversees a veteran group, of which Reynolds might be considered an honorary member.
“I’m just trying to take in as much as I can from the defensive line,” Reynolds said. “Understanding where they’re going to fit on a lot of plays just helps me out and helps the linebackers out when we’re reading our gaps. Coach Hanson’s a great coach. I love the way he breaks down the film, and I understand him a lot, just like I understand Coach Brown. So whenever I can get a chance, I just go in there and try to listen to what he has to say.”
The pressure Reynolds put on Idaho’s quarterback on the final play of overtime Oct. 1 helped UVa pull out a 21-20 win at Scott Stadium. Reynolds’ most memorable play as a Cavalier, however, came last Thursday night against ACC rival Miami.
Trailing 28-21 late in the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes drove to Virginia’s 15-yard-line, where they faced fourth-and-2. Reynolds, timing the snap perfectly, burst across the line and dropped tailback Mike Jones for a 1-yard loss that helped the Wahoos secure their first ACC road win under London.
“Fortunately, the defensive line did a great job, and this was a designed blitz,” Reynolds said. “It was set up to happen. It wasn’t like I just shot the gap and it happened. Coach Reid called up a great play. Everything happened to perfection, and fortunately I just made the tackle.”
Would he have been able to make that play a year ago?
“Probably not,” Reynolds said, “only due to the fact that my mental understanding of the run fits and where I needed to fit on a lot of plays wasn’t where I needed it to be.”
Born and raised in Norfolk — his father, Roy, served in the Navy — Reynolds chose UVa over NC State, Syracuse and Connecticut. The Cavaliers finished well below .500 in each of his first two seasons, but they’re on the verge of a breakthrough this fall, in part because of Reynolds’ contributions.
A win over Maryland would make the ‘Hoos bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. It would also keep them in contention for the Coastal Division crown. Four regular-season games remain for London’s team. If the Cavaliers were to win them all, they would represent the Coastal in the ACC championship game.
London hasn’t spent time contemplating such scenarios.
“Maybe a couple years from now we can talk about winning out and running the table and controlling our own destiny,” he said. “That’s for teams that have been there and done that. ”
Reynolds said: “Our biggest thing is just getting this win Saturday.”