By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When it came time for him to choose the 2012 winner of the football team’s Iron Cavalier Award, Evan Marcus sought input from Ryan Tedford, Everrett Gathron and Ed Nordenschild, fellow members of UVa’s strength staff.
The group’s choice was unanimous: Tim Smith, a 6-0, 190-pound wide receiver who’ll be a redshirt junior in the fall.
“I think people have that image that the Iron Cavalier is going to automatically go to a lineman,” Marcus, UVa’s head strength-and-conditioning coach for football, said Monday afternoon at the McCue Center. “They think it’s gotta be about a big guy. It doesn’t have to be about a big guy. It has to be about who comes in the weight room and just gets after it, and Timmy does.
“When you think of the Iron Cavalier, obviously you want somebody who’s made improvements and who’s strong and does the things you want him to do. But on top of that, you want the mentality that embodies what we’re trying to accomplish, the toughness, the aggressiveness, the getting after it on a constant basis, and really that’s what sums it up to me.
“I think we’re getting more and more guys who have that right mindset. It’s great that when you have this discussion with your staff, there are a bunch of names that are being thrown out there, because it shows that more and more guys are buying into this culture.”
Safety Rijo Walker, a rising junior, was a “very strong second” for the Iron Cavalier Award, said Marcus, who also praised the dedication of such players as tailback Perry Jones, defensive ends Jake Snyder and Billy Schautz, tight end Paul Freedman and linebacker Steve Greer.
“There’s obviously other guys who you know could get that award as well,” Marcus said, “but again when you thought of what it embodies as far as I’m concerned, Timmy really stood out. I’m really proud of the kid.”
Smith said: “It means a lot to me. When you step in the weight room, you just gotta take advantage of every opportunity you get and just be grateful for what you have, because a lot of people that would like to be in that position are not. So every time I step in there or every time I step on the field, I just try to get the most out of it.”
The award is “the embodiment of the everyday grind mentality, and it’s also how much he helps the younger guys around him,” Marcus said. “And I thought Timmy was a good influence on Nicky and Darius. They see a guy like that really get after it and just go after the heavy weights, and he’s not afraid, he’s consistent, and I think the other guys really kind of gravitated toward him. I think the same thing happened with Rijo and [rising sophomore safety] Anthony Harris — that’s a good pairing.”
Smith said: “I’m definitely trying to set an example, because I know a lot of young guys didn’t necessarily do the stuff that we’re doing now in high school, so you’ve just got to take them up under your wing. As well as trying to be a leader of the receiver group, I just take that into the weight room as well.”
In 2011, Smith caught 33 passes for 565 yards and three touchdowns, and his average of 17.1 yards per catch led the team. With Kris Burd out of eligibility, Smith, a graduate of Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High, is the Wahoos’ most experienced receiver.
“That’s why I took it upon myself to step up as a leader of this group this spring,” Smith said, “and just try to focus on things that will help me become a better player as well as a better leader.”
In the Orange-Blue spring game Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium, Smith had two catches for 23 yards.
Head coach Mike London’s players are lifting weight three days a week until the end of the semester. In May, “some guys will go home, some guys will stay [and train],” Marcus said. “The feedback I’m getting is a lot of kids want to stick around.”
The veterans’ summer strength-and-conditioning program officially starts in early June.
STARTING ANEW: Many of the players who signed with UVa in February were in town Saturday for the spring game. Most of the recruits will begin summer school at the University in July, and that’s also when Marcus will start working with them.
“I had an opportunity to talk this weekend to them and just reiterated the importance of coming in in shape,” Marcus said. “From the lifting side of things, yes, you want them strong, but I know that we’ll get them stronger. If they don’t come in in shape, if they don’t take it upon themselves at home to stay in shape, it creates a big problem for them.
“A, they won’t be able to compete, and that’s not what you want, because you’re probably counting on a few of them to play right away. B, it singles them out right away for a negative. If they’re dropping out and they can’t keep up, it certainly shows a lack of commitment or maturity, that they can’t handle it when they’re home, that they haven’t turned the page, they’re still living on their high school accomplishments, and they haven’t refocused their goals and said, ‘OK, now what?’
“And that’s what I told them: ‘All that stuff that you accomplished, put it in a big scrapbook and throw it in a drawer, because it has no effect on what happens from here on out.’ It doesn’t. How many times have you seen the low-recruited kid or the walk-on kid who makes a real impact, and then the high five-star kid who doesn’t ever amount to what we all thought he would be, because he can’t reset his goals? With the freshmen, I always kind of have a wait-and-see approach.”
The first-year players will work out together as a group until the start of training camp in August. “We like to say we don’t like to release them into the general population,” Marcus said, smiling.
BIG TARGET: In a receiving corps stocked with players 6-0 or shorter, Miles Gooch stands out.
The 6-3, 220-pound Gooch, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, came to UVa as a quarterback in 2010 but switched to wideout before spring practice last year.
He saw little time at his new position in the fall — Gooch finished the 2011 season with no receptions — but has impressed at times this spring. In the Orange-Blue game, Gooch caught three passes for 58 yards, including a 31-yarder from true freshman Greyson Lambert.
“He’s a size receiver,” London said after the spring game. “He does look physically good. He has to eliminate some mental errors, in terms of alignments and things like that, but that’s a guy that hasn’t been a household name that’s gotta play in the game and do things for us.”
The Cavaliers’ other wideouts include the 6-0 Smith and Jennings, Terrell and E.J. Scott, all listed at 5-11.
BREAKING THE MOLD: At 6-6, 235 pounds, Zachary Swanson isn’t built like a traditional fullback, and fans aren’t likely to see him carry the ball much, if ever, for the Cavaliers this fall.
“Maybe one day,” Swanson said, laughing, “but I’m not really the running type. I like blocking.”
Swanson, who came to UVa as a tight end, likes catching the ball, too, and he showed off his receiving skills in the spring game. He gained 44 yards on his three catches, which included a 27-yarder from quarterback Michael Rocco.
“He could be a tight end, no doubt,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said after the spring game. “In the end, there may end up being some cross-training between the tight ends and fullbacks for us, just because Swanson’s body is really a tight end-looking body, and some of those other guys could also move around.”
Swanson, who’s from Katy, Texas, will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall. He switched to fullback last year and was used primarily as a blocker in short-yardage situations.
UVa’s top two fullbacks last season, Max Milien and Terence Fells-Danzer, were seniors. Milien carried the ball five times and Fells-Danzer once. Milien, however, was an integral part of UVa’s passing game and finished the season with 22 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
“Max did a great job for us last year,” Swanson said, “and I sat behind him and watched him, and I got in a little bit. But the thing I think I can bring, being a [former] tight end, is flexibility.”
Swanson is a “big physical presence,” London said, and “he’s kind of an H-back type where you can move him and he can kick-out block, he can line up in the backfield with Perry and run a lead draw, or he can line up in the backfield and provide pass protection, and then he can line up and fake like he’s going to block and then slip out into the flat, or run a wheel route. … So I think finding a guy like him with his different skill set is going to allow the offense to be more versatile.”
AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Had he not opted to graduate from high school early and enroll at UVa in January, Lambert would be finishing the 12th grade back home in Jesup, Ga.
In the spring game, the 6-5, 215-pound right-hander completed 8 of 15 passes for 75 yards and one touchdown.
“It was not nearly as nerve-wracking as if I was actually going to play a game,” Lambert said. “Of course I was nervous, but once I kind of got through the first couple plays, it was just like practice, and it was fun. It was fun getting out there.”
His first semester of college football has “been rough at times and good at times,” Lambert said. “It’s a grind, especially for me to come in and try to learn everything in 15 practices. It’s hard, and I don’t know everything. I’m just now starting to know the majority of the plays that we have put in, and there’s still some of them that I’m not 100-percent sure about. But it’s been a lot of fun, and I’m really glad I did come early.”
ONGOING BATTLE: Rising sophomore Alex Vozenilek emerged from spring practice as a clear No. 1 at punter. Who’ll handle kickoffs, extra points and field goals this year is still to be determined.
“Coming out of spring, honestly, they all did a pretty nice job,” special teams coordinator Anthony Poindexter said. “We thought once we put them against some competition, it would sort itself out. But they all did pretty decent in our road practices [in Fairfax, Newport News and Richmond].”
In the spring game, Jarrett made both of his field-goal attempts (20 and 27 yards). Frye made his only kick, from 42 yards, and Vozenilek missed from 34 yards.
“It’s going to be important early in August to find the guy and say, ‘This is the guy we’re going with, and let’s go,’ ” London said.
Poindexter was an All-America safety for UVa, and he coaches that position in addition to overseeing special teams at his alma mater. The safeties who played in the spring game included Walker, sophomores Harris and Pablo Alvarez, and redshirt freshmen Mason Thomas and Darius Lee. Walker and Harris worked with the first-team defense.
“They’re all learning, and it’s just another step in their learning curve,” Poindexter said. “It’s just going to be reps. The more reps they get, the better they’re going to be.”
Virginia’s starting safeties last season, Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley, were seniors.