By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE -– For residents of Madison Lane, it was not unusual during the 2011-12 school year to see a young man kicking a football through the rugby goal posts down in Mad Bowl, a landmark on the University of Virginia Grounds.
Occasionally a friend would assist him, but usually Drew Jarrett worked alone on the field as he tried to keep his skills sharp. It wasn’t the same as kicking in a stadium with 60,000 screaming fans, but there was pressure nonetheless.
“I had people in the fraternities up on the balconies yelling at me, ‘Wide right!’ and ‘Wide left!’ ” Jarrett recalled with a laugh. “It was fun. It was probably good for me.”
UVa’s depth chart for the Sept. 1 season-opener against Richmond won’t be released until Monday, so it’s not exactly clear what role the 6-0, 180-pound Jarrett will play at Scott Stadium that day. Redshirt freshman Ian Frye is expected to handle kickoffs for the Wahoos, but Jarrett may well be the choice for extra points and at least some field goals.
“I think I’ve had a good camp,” Jarrett said after practice Thursday night. “I think we’ve both had a really good camp.”
If No. 11 is called on to kick, it will be the first time Jarrett has done so in a college game in more than two-and-a-half years. He’s followed an unusual path since leaving Virginia Beach’s Cox High, where he was an All-Group AAA kicker in 2008.
For most of the 2009 season, Jarrett, a true freshman who wore jersey No. 6, handled extra points for the Cavaliers, whose head coach then was Al Groh. Jarrett, a recruited walk-on, made all 17 extra points he attempted, and there was every reason to believe he would be an integral part of UVa’s kicking game for years to come.
“It was awesome,” Jarrett said of his 2009 experience at Virginia.
In 2010, though, a new coaching staff divided the kicking duties between juniors Robert Randolph and Chris Hinkebein, and Jarrett redshirted. That saved him a year of eligibility, but his prospects for playing time didn’t improve when the calendar flipped to 2011.
As spring practice approached that year, Jarrett said, he looked at the depth chart and realized that with Randolph and Hinkebein back “I really wasn’t in line to get much playing time, and a couple other things, including some money issues, came up, and I decided it was just kind of in my best interest to leave the team and really focus on academics for the year.
“I honestly hadn’t planned on coming back.”
But Jarrett stayed in touch with friends on the team, Randolph, Hinkebein and tight end Paul Freedman among them, and attended every game at Scott Stadium last year, following the action intently from high up in the stands. When the Wahoos played on the road, Jarrett watched them on TV.
He stayed busy during his third year at the University. He played intramurals –- “Soccer, basketball, everything, really,” Jarrett said. He ran and lifted weights and practiced his kicking, took a full load of classes and worked part time for Fastenal, a local company. He discovered that he missed football more than he’d expected to.
“It was really weird being away from the game for so long,” Jarrett said.
And so, at the urging of several current and former Cavaliers, including Freedman, Randolph, Hinkebein, long-snapper Matt Fortin and punter Alex Vozenilek, Jarrett approached assistant coach Anthony Poindexter, who oversees UVa’s special teams.
Poindexter said he’d be happy to have Jarrett back. Jarrett then spoke to head coach Mike London, who said the same thing. And when the ‘Hoos reconvened for spring practice this year, Jarrett was back on the field with them.
He admits he was unsure how the other Cavaliers, his close friends aside, would react to his return. Would they question his commitment to the team?
“It’s tough, because I know that it doesn’t look great to take a year off, and I hadn’t planned on taking a year off,” Jarrett said. “I really thought that my football career was pretty much over. But they were great to me. They all were very accepting of me coming back. I sort of felt bad about leaving, but I’m back, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”
His Mad Bowl workouts helped, but not surprisingly, Jarrett said, he “lost a little power, a little accuracy” during his time away from the team. “But I worked on things, and I’m back to where I was, probably better than when I was kicking at the end of the second year.”
When he enrolled at UVa, Jarrett expected to eventually receive a football scholarship, perhaps as early as January of his first year. That hasn’t happened, for various reasons, and he’s still working for Fastenal, as well as taking classes and playing football.
“So the schedule’s jam-packed,” Jarrett said, “but it’s all right.”
He’s on track to earn his bachelor’s degree in English next spring. Jarrett hopes to return as a graduate student in 2013, perhaps in UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce, and would love to continue kicking for the Cavaliers.
“Absolutely,” Jarrett said. “College football is great.”
Does he appreciate the experience more after a year away?
“Absolutely,” Jarrett said. “I feel like it gives you sort of an edge, because [usually] you’re so worried about making this kick or making that kick. Then when you’re gone for a year, it’s like, ‘Man, I’m just happy to be out there with the team.’ ”