By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With his long blond locks, Brent Urban looks the part of a surfer — a seriously supersized surfer — and has the laid-back personality to match. His football coaches at UVa would like to see more of a mean streak from the 6-7, 290-pound redshirt sophomore, as would Evan Marcus, who oversees the team’s strength-and-conditioning program.
“Off the field, I guess I’m a laid-back kind of guy and don’t take things too seriously,” Urban said after practice Wednesday morning. “But I’ve been trying to focus more on the field and bring a little more intensity.”
For the first 11 games of the season, Urban was the Cavaliers’ No. 4 defensive end. In that role, he played significantly fewer snaps than the three players ahead of him at that position: senior Cam Johnson, junior Billy Schautz and sophomore Jake Snyder.
Schautz, however, suffered a gruesome injury in Tallahassee, Fla., last weekend. He broke the fibula and tibia in his left leg while breaking up a pass in the final minute of Virgina’s 14-13 win over Florida State.
“Knowing Bill, he’ll probably want to be back by the bowl game or something like that,” UVa coach Mike London said Sunday night. “But that’s not going to happen.”
In its regular-season finale, No. 24 UVa (5-2 ACC, 8-3 overall) hosts No. 6 Virginia Tech (6-1, 10-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium. For the first time this season, No. 47 won’t be available for the Wahoos.
“Billy’s definitely an emotional leader on this team,” middle linebacker Steve Greer told reporters Monday. “All the guys love Billy. When he’s out there, I think he’s raised the intensity of the game. I don’t think it’s that hard to press ‘play’ again, though, because we want to play hard for Billy.”
Urban said: “It’s always tough to see an injury. We all feel for him and hope he makes a speedy recovery.”
It’s too early to say exactly how defensive coordinator Jim Reid and defensive line coach Jeff Hanson will fill the void left by Schautz, who had 6.5 tackles for loss. But Urban’s playing time is likely to increase, and true freshman Thompson Brown’s might as well.
“A couple guys have to step up this week,” Urban said. “It’s a next-man-up mentality, pretty much.”
Urban has ideal size for defensive end in the 3-4, and that’s the scheme the Cavaliers were running when they recruited him out of Lorne Park Secondary School in Ontario, Canada. After the 2009 season, however, UVa dismissed head coach Al Groh and hired London, who replaced the 3-4 with the 4-3.
Most ends in the 4-3 are shorter and lighter than Urban, and “it was a bit of an adjustment,” he recalled Wednesday. “It took me a while to figure out what was going on.”
It didn’t help that on the first day of spring practice in 2010 — his first opportunity to impress the new coaching staff on the field — he tore an ACL. Urban didn’t make his college debut until the middle of last October and appeared in only three games as a redshirt freshman.
The injury “was pretty tough,” Urban said, “especially because it happened right when the new coaches came in, right when we were switching up our front. It just took me a while. When I came back halfway through the season, I was just trying to kind of catch up to everybody else. It was tough, but my coaches have really helped me, as well as some of the older guys.”
He’s played in every game this season for the ‘Hoos and has made seven tackles.
“As this season’s gone on, I’ve been more confident in my ability to play this new front,” Urban said. “I’m just learning how to be a better student of the game, being able to read formations and stuff like that. Coach Hanson’s really helped me figure out where to line up, just all types of things, as well as the technique.”
London said: “He’s much improved. He’s a big, strong guy. Might be more an inside guy, but he’s got some defensive-end skills, so he gives us a lot of versatility there. And if you look at his body frame and type right now, once Evan gets done with him, he’s going to be big as a house, and I mean that in a good way.”
Urban is similar in size to Matt Conrath, a fifth-year senior who has blossomed into an All-ACC candidate this fall. Conrath moved from end to tackle when Virginia shifted to the 4-3, and Urban could eventually slide inside, too.
For now, though, “I’d say I definitely have to focus more on power and using my reach, instead of doing some quick moves and stuff like that” at defensive end, Urban said.
In Schautz’s absence, contributions from Urban would be especially valuable for the Cavaliers on Saturday. He’s not a native Virginian, but Urban has grown to appreciate the rivalry between ‘Hoos and Hokies.
“After my first year, even, I realized the magnitude of this match-up,” Urban said. “Just feeding off the whole atmosphere game day, I really realized what all goes into this.”