By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – University of Virginia football coach Mike London expects to play at least 10 true freshmen Saturday against Richmond at Scott Stadium.
The Cavaliers’ opener will be a debut of sorts for Tony Covington, too. He’s no stranger to college football – Covington started 47 games for George Welsh as a UVa cornerback from 1987 to ’90 – but he has a new role at his alma mater.
Covington, 44, is taking over for Frank Quayle as color analyst on radio broadcasts of UVa football games. Quayle, the ACC player of the year as a Virginia tailback in 1968, retired after the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That game capped Quayle’s 29th season as analyst on UVa football broadcasts.
In the booth, Covington will work alongside Dave Koehn, Virginia’s play-by-play announcer.
“The thing I’m excited about is his passion,” Koehn said. “He’s passionate about life, he’s passionate about football, he’s passionate about UVa. He brings a passion to whatever he does, and his eagerness to learn has been fun to watch early on.”
Jon Oliver, UVa’s executive associate director of athletics, agreed.
“The thing I like about him most is that he’s hungry,” Oliver said. “He wants to get good at this. He’s following a guy like Frank Quayle, who I think did a great job, and this is a great opportunity for Tony. And he’s a Virginia guy. That’s important.”
Covington, who lives in the Philadelphia area, emerged as a candidate for the analyst’s job in the spring after his impassioned presentation to UVa football players during a program devoted to life skills.
“I thought he did a great job with that, and I was impressed with his understanding of Virginia football and where we were trying to go,” Oliver said. “His ability to understand the game was also impressive.”
Covington admits he’s been surprised by the reaction to his presentation.
“Even my friends that have seen it have commented on it,” he said. “They were just like, ‘Dude, you need to be doing that full time.’ It’s something I wanted to do, and people always said I should try to get into some kind of broadcasting.”
A second-team All-ACC selection in 1989 and again in ’90, when he competed as a graduate student, Covington was a fourth-round pick of Tampa Bay in the 1991 NFL draft. He spent five seasons in the NFL, the last with Seattle, and later played in the Arena Football League.
Covington was based in Tampa for more than 15 years and didn’t start attending UVa football games until he moved to the D.C. area in 2006.
Like many of his former teammates, Covington said, he struggled to understand why the Cavaliers’ fortunes declined late in Al Groh’s tenure as head coach. Virginia had excellent facilities and a winning tradition, Covington said, and “for the life of us, we couldn’t get it.”
When UVa dismissed Groh after the 2009 season, Covington was among the former players who hoped London would get the job. “And when he did, he really reached out to alumni,” Covington said. “He said, ‘We want you guys back, we want you guys around.’ He’s just kept us in the loop on everything that has gone on, and we really appreciate it.”
As a senior at Parkland High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., Covington said, he narrowed his college choices to Virginia and Duke, “purely because of academics.” He chose UVa because of its superior football program.
Covington redshirted in 1986. During the next four seasons, the Wahoos won 33 games. The program was loaded with talent, but Covington also points to the work ethic instilled in the players by the legendary strength coach John Gamble.
“I just remember the whatever-it-takes mentality,” Covington said. “He really taught me just to buy into the work.”
Covington said he’ll bring that mentality to the radio booth. “I want to be the best that I can be.”
Oliver said: “It’s a great opportunity for him. Obviously, all of us need to work on getting better each and every day, and Tony’s committed to that. These guys have been in here working on their craft. I look forward to a long tenure on Tony’s part working with Dave Koehn to bring forth a great radio program.”
SAD NEWS: London announced Thursday that redshirt freshman Tim Cwalina’s football career is over.
A promising offensive guard from Pittsburgh who has never played in a game for UVa, Cwalina was “medically disqualified due to a cardiac condition that makes it unsafe for him to participate in football,” London told reporters on a teleconference.
Cwalina, who missed spring practice with mononucleosis, was expected to earn a spot on the two-deep this fall. But medical issues arose during workouts this summer, London said, and ultimately UVa’s medical team decided that it would be dangerous for Cwalina to continue playing.
“I talked to his parents,” London said. “They’re very thankful that our doctors down here did a fantastic job of finding out exactly what it was, and that Tim has an opportunity to still be around us in the office and working with us and still being around his teammates.”
Cwalina plans to continue his studies at UVa and will remain on scholarship for “however long he needs it to fulfill his academic obligations,” London said.
“We’ve told him and his family that I’m committed to making sure that he becomes an educated man here and gets a Virginia degree, and he’s expressed interest in doing that. So he’ll still be around his teammates. He just won’t be playing.”
YOUNG GUNS: The true freshmen expected to play Saturday against UR are: wide receivers Canaan Severin and Adrian Gamble; defensive ends Eli Harold, Mike Moore and Trent Corney; linebackers Kwontie Moore and Demeitre Brim; cornerbacks Maurice Canady and C.J. Moore; and safety Anthony Cooper. (The Moores are not related.)
Another true freshman, offensive tackle Michael Mooney, is on Virginia’s depth chart for the opener, but London hopes to redshirt him this season. Mooney is listed, along with sophomore Kelby Johnson, as the backup to starter Oday Aboushi at left tackle. Johnson will sit out the first two games for violating team rules.