By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — LaRoy Reynolds, a fourth-year student who’s on pace to graduate early from the University of Virginia, took two exams Tuesday.
That proved challenging for the African-American & African Studies major — not because the right-handed Reynolds neglected to prepare for the tests, but because his right hand is broken.
He proceeded carefully. “I typed it on my laptop, and I just emailed it to my teacher after I was done,” Reynolds said after football practice the next morning. “But I’ve taken classes with her before, and we’re pretty close, so she understood everything.”
Reynolds, a three-year starter at outside linebacker, suffered the injury Sept. 15, late in the second quarter of UVa’s game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. With his hand heavily wrapped, the 6-2, 232-pound senior was able to return in the second half, but he missed Virginia’s next two games, losses to TCU and Louisiana Tech, both of which are unbeaten.
For a player who never had been forced out of the lineup by injury, it was agonizing to not be on the field with his teammates. It was also instructive for Reynolds, one of the Cavaliers’ captains.
“It just allows you to value playing the game, allows you to really appreciate the opportunities we have and the chances we have and allowed me to make the most of them,” Reynolds said. “I learned how to be a better teammate and be a better leader. I just had to take a step back and realize how blessed I was and how many good people I have around me.”
Reynolds had surgery on his hand Sept. 21. He returned to practice this week — No. 9 wears a soft cast to protect his hand when he’s on the field — and will start at weakside linebacker Saturday against Coastal Division rival Duke in Durham, N.C.
The Wahoos (2-3 overall, 0-1 ACC) take on the Blue Devils (4-1, 1-0) at 3 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Reynolds is “kind of the heart and soul, a little bit, of the defense, in terms of his energy and passion that he brings,” head coach Mike London said. “It’s good to have him back.”
Virginia is trying to snap a three-game losing streak, and the return of Reynolds should bolster a defense that’s been prone to giving up big plays.
“It definitely adds a little spice to our defense,” middle linebacker Steve Greer, another team captain, said Thursday.
“Roy’s an emotional guy. When you love the game and you’re emotional like that, it’s hard to sit there on the sidelines. So it’s great to see him back out here running around, and I know he’s a lot happier being out here, too.”
Reynolds said: “I can’t wait. I don’t even have words to explain it. It’s just that you love doing something and you just enjoy it so much, just being around your teammates, being on the field. Even last Saturday, I wasn’t playing, but I was all over the field, so I know this week, just having the opportunity to play, I’m going to be ready.”
A graduate of Maury High School in Norfolk, Reynolds enrolled at UVa in the summer of 2010. (He’ll graduate in December, three-and-a-half years later.) Al Groh was the head coach then, and he slotted Reynolds at safety in the Cavaliers’ base defense, the 3-4.
As a true freshman, Reynolds appeared in 10 games, but played only on special teams. By the time spring practice rolled around in 2010, Reynolds had a new head coach (London), a new defensive coordinator (Jim Reid), a new defensive scheme (the 4-3) and a new position (outside linebacker).
Reynolds started 11 games as a sophomore and led the `Hoos in tackles, but he often got caught out of position, which led to big gains by opposing offenses.
He showed marked improvement as a junior, as did the entire defense. Reynolds finished the 2011 season with 88 tackles, second on the team to Greer (103), and was more consistent from game to game.
Reynolds still went through some rough stretches. One of Reid’s enduring memories from last season is the sight of Reynolds waiting for him at the McCue Center early on Nov. 27, the morning after UVa’s 38-0 to Virginia Tech at Scott Stadium.
Virginia entered that game having run off four straight victories, including road wins over ACC rivals Miami and Florida State. But the Cavaliers collapsed in their regular-season finale, and Reynolds held himself partly responsible.
Early in his career, Reynolds said this week, he did not have “the mindset of preparing and really taking responsibility for what I meant to the team. It didn’t really resonate with me. But last year, after the Tech game, it broke me down.”
After playing so well for most of the season, Reynolds expected more from himself than the performance he delivered against the Hokies, who, led by tailback David Wilson, capitalized on the Cavaliers’ defensive breakdowns.
“I don’t want to make it like it’s all about, `Oh, I messed up the entire game,’ ” Reynolds said. “But I do feel like I played a part.”
And so he rose early on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend — with Virginia’s next game more than a month away — to review videotape of the debacle.
“Actually I wanted to go in that night [after the game] and watch it, just to get that bad taste out of my mouth and see what I could do to get ready for the bowl game,” Reynolds said. “I took it like it was an opportunity that I have to grasp, and the willingness to prepare and get better is something I just wanted to embody.”
With Reynolds on the sideline for the TCU and Louisiana Tech games, sophomore D.J. Hill started in his spot at Will linebacker and acquitted himself well.
“I think he stepped up tremendously,” Reynolds said. “I could see it in his work ethic. He was preparing every day. We were in the film room, just trying to get ready for the game and get prepared, and I think he did a great job. Just playing the position, not trying to make too many plays and not trying to overdo it. Just playing within Coach Reid’s system. And [true freshman linebacker] Demeitre Brim too. He’s going to be a real good player.”
Greer agreed. “I thought D.J. and Brim did a great job of stepping up, and they really made some plays for us. But like I said, a lot of guys look to Roy as a leader and a playmaker, so it’s good to have him back out there.”
With Reynolds back on the field, London said, Virginia has another “coach’s voice in the huddle.”
Reynolds’ message to his teammates? Keep fighting. Believe in yourselves. The season is far from over.
“One thing I just told my guys in the huddle,” Reynolds said after practice Wednesday, “was that with a lot of things you just have to speak it into existence. You have to believe that we are going to be ACC champions. You have to speak it, you have to live it, you have to just think about it every day. Every day you wake up, you gotta think about being ACC champions.
“I think the adversity we’ve faced early on is going to help us in October and November, and college football is all about October and November.”