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Nov. 12, 2012

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Defensive end Bill Schautz admits he asked himself that question after severely injuring his hamstring Sept. 22. This is a young man, after all, whose 2011 season ended prematurely when he broke his left tibia and left fibula Nov. 19 against Florida State.

The fifth-year senior from Bloomfield, N.J., rehabbed diligently throughout the winter and spring and was back at full strength by the start of training camp in August. Schautz started UVa’s first two games. He missed the third with a minor hamstring injury, but then started the fourth, against TCU, on a warm day in Fort Worth, Texas.

He tweaked his hamstring in the first half, but his adrenaline was pumping, Schautz recalled Monday, and so he returned to the field in the third quarter. He didn’t last long. He hurt his hamstring again early in the second half and realized the injury was serious, Schautz said, and “that’s when I was just like, `I gotta stop. I can’t do it anymore.’ “

And so began another waiting game for Schautz, who wondered at times why adversity had come his way again.

“It was a struggle for the first week or two afterwards,” he said, “but what are you gonna do, pack it in? All you can do is just keep working to come back and keep playing.”

After sitting out five games — a stretch in which the Wahoos lost four times — Schautz was finally cleared to play again, and he rejoined classmate Ausar Walcott, junior Jake Snyder and true freshmen Eli Harold and Mike Moore in the rotation at defensive end Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium.

“It’s great having Billy back,” said Jeff Hanson, who coaches UVa’s defensive line. “He’s a leader for us, and he’s a smart football player, and it’s good to see him back and moving around.”

In limited duty, the 6-4, 265-pound Schautz made only one tackle in Virginia’s heart-stopping 41-40 win over ACC rival Miami. Still, No. 47 could not have been much happier Saturday.

“The coaches watched my reps, and it was limited to only 10 or 12 plays, but it was good,” Schautz said Monday. “It felt great. I got all the jitters out, so hopefully I’ll be real good for this week.”

Virginia (4-6, 2-4 ACC), which must win its final two regular-season games to become bowl-eligible, hosts North Carolina (6-4, 3-3) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Schautz will be among the players honored before the game in the Senior Night ceremony.

UVa closes the regular season Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech, which will need to win that game to become eligible for a bowl.

“Our sense of purpose is high right now,” Schautz said after practice Monday, which is usually a day off for the players.

“It was a different practice today, but it was probably one of the best practices of the season, and we’re all very excited for this game on Thursday.”

Against Miami, Schautz said, he worried at times about reinjuring his hamstring, and that limited his effectiveness.

“I’m not going to lie, last week it definitely was in the back of my mind,” he said, “I remember one play, I had to chase down the quarterback, and I felt myself maybe pushing it too much, and I just kind of let up. But now that’s totally out of window. I’m not really thinking about that anymore.”

Schautz started only one of the 11 games in which he appeared last season, but he played about as many snaps as each of the first-team ends, Jake Snyder and Cameron Johnson. He finished 2011 with 6.5 tackles for loss and also broke up two passes, caused two fumbles and recovered two fumbles.

“The thing Billy brings is great effort, and he brings an awareness to our defensive line,” Hanson said Monday. “He’s a very intelligent football player in that he knows what’s going to happen to him [when opponents line up in] different formations, different backfield sets, so he’s got a lot of football savvy that really helps. And that’s why he is such a good player.”

When Schautz went down against TCU, Hanson said, “I really felt bad for Billy, but I knew that Billy would be back with us as soon as he could, because he’s on a mission, and the mission is to play as well as he can and to help his football team and his teammates.

“I just felt really bad for him that he missed so many weeks, because I was hoping it wasn’t going to be so bad. But he’s back, he looks great, he’s happy, and he’s going to bring a great deal of emotion to our defensive front.”

In Schautz’s absence, Harold and Moore got more reps in practice and more playing time in games. “And so with the experience that those two guys got Billy being hurt, it’s helped them,” Hanson said. “So they’re in playing situations now, and they’re going to play for us, and we’re excited about both of those guys, too.”

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