April 4, 2013

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In Daquan Romero’s four years on the varsity football team at Phoebus High in Hampton, the Phantoms won three state titles and lost one game. One game.

At his next stop, the University of Virginia, Romero played as a true freshman on a team that won eight games and appeared in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

None of that prepared Romero, who goes by Da-Da (pronounced Day-Day), for his second college season. The Cavaliers finished 4-8 last year.

“I’m not really used to losing, especially coming from [Phoebus],” Romero said after practice Wednesday morning.

“It’s something I had to get adjusted to, but it’s not something that me and the team want to get used to. So right now we’re just putting in the extra work. We’re doing everything that the coaches are telling us to learn their new system as fast as we can and try to get better as a team.”

As a sophomore in 2012, he started four games, all at strong-side linebacker, on a defense whose coordinator was Jim Reid. Romero finished with 44 tackles — the most of any Cavalier who didn’t start at least 10 games — caused one fumble and recovered one fumble. Still, he wasn’t particularly pleased with his play.

“You always feel like you could do more, especially with the record that we had,” Romero said.

As they head into their fourth season under head coach Mike London, the Cavaliers have a new defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta, as well as new coordinators on offense (Steve Fairchild) and special teams (Larry Lewis). The 6-foot-1 Romero has a new position — weak-side linebacker — and he’s been running with the first team this spring, alongside junior Henry Coley in the middle and sophomore Demeitre Brim on the strong side.

The Cavaliers’ annual Orange-Blue spring game is Saturday at 1 p.m. at Scott Stadium. Admission and parking are free for fans. The scrimmage will be webcast on ESPN3.

A season ago, Romero could defer to Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds, senior linebackers who combined to make 212 tackles. With Greer and Reynolds gone, Romero finds himself in a leadership role this season. He was in for 490 plays last season, the most of any of the Cavaliers’ returning linebackers.

“I have to speak up more,” Romero said. “I’m really not the communicative or social type, so that’s probably the biggest thing that I gotta adjust to.”

Like the other members of UVa’s defense, he’s also adjusting to Tenuta’s system. “I’m just trying to learn everything I can, to be able to teach it to the younger guys,” Romero said.

At Phoebus, where he played defensive end, Romero relied primarily on his speed and quickness. For a major-college linebacker, he has learned, that’s not enough.

Romero played at around 220 pounds last season. He’s now closer to 235.

“We had him up to a certain weight, I think it was about 230 last year, and then all of a sudden in the summer that weight just started to peel off him,” said Evan Marcus, UVa’s strength-and-conditioning coach for football.

Romero, worried that the extra weight was affecting his speed, slimmed down dramatically before the start of last season. Ultimately, that reduced his effectiveness.

“I’ve always thought Da-Da was a hard worker,” Marcus said, “but to be a player at linebacker, you’re not going to do it at 215. I think you start to realize that when these 300-pound guards come pulling out. Mass wins.”

And so Romero set out to change his body again, working closely with Marcus and nutritionist Randy Bird.

“This time around he got back up, and maybe he did it a little smarter,” Marcus said. “But he got up there, he stayed there, and his strength numbers improved. So it wasn’t just like adding weight with no benefit to it.

“He got stronger. We worked on our movement skills during the winter, and his movement skills were very good. He seemed faster. His body matured, and everything just seems to be hitting stride for him now. I think he realizes that he can hold the 230, 235. I think he realizes that he can be fast at that weight, and I think he realizes to play at this level he has to do that.”

Romero said: “I’m just trying to stay healthy and keep my speed at the same time. The thing is, I think I’m learning more [about Tenuta’s defense], and when you learn more, you can move faster, and that’s helping me a lot too.”

After graduating a semester early from Phoebus, Romero enrolled at UVa in January 2011. His pass-rushing prowess in high school was legendary. He had 30 sacks as a junior and 19 as a senior. As a Cavalier, Romero has made 4.5 tackles for loss but has yet to record his first sack.

In Tenuta’s scheme, he’s likely to get more opportunities to rush the passer, “because that’s the kind of coach he is,” Romero said. “He’s aggressive. He likes to get after it. He likes to get after the quarterback. He likes to attack. He doesn’t really like to sit back and let the offense observe what you do. He wants you to dictate what the offense does, not the offense dictate what you do.”

Backing up Romero at weak-side linebacker is classmate D.J. Hill, who started two games last season. They’re making each better, Romero said.

“You can never get comfortable, because at any moment, at any time, anybody could take your position,” Romero said.

“You just gotta work hard. Because if I don’t work hard, he’s going to be right there in front of me. He’s one play away. I could make one mistake, and he could be right there the next day. So you can never get comfortable, you can never get satisfied with where you’re at.”

SHOW RETURNS: Three new 30-minute installments of “The Building of a Program,” a television show that focuses on UVa football, will air this month.

The first new episode will premier at 4:30 p.m. Friday on Comcast SportsNet. It will also air Saturday on WAHU FOX 27 at 9:30 a.m., on Comcast SportsNet at 10:30 a.m., on WVAW ABC 16 at 11 a.m., and on WCAV CBS 19 at 11:30 a.m.

The second episode will debut on Friday, April 12, and the third episode on Friday, April 19.

EQUIPMENT SALE: Authentic game-worn UVa football jerseys and helmets will be on sale before the spring game Saturday at Scott Stadium.

Jerseys from the 2006, ’07, ’08 and `09 seasons will be available for $75 apiece, and a variety of bowl jerseys will be available in limited numbers for $150 each. Game-worn navy helmets and white throwback helmets (from Virginia’s 2008 game against Richmond) will be available for $150 each. All jerseys and helmets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Cash and credit cards will be accepted, but no checks.

Also, an autographed Matt Schaub jersey will be auctioned off Saturday. The jersey/helmet sale will take place behind the scoreboard at the open end of Scott Stadium, starting when the gates open at 11 a.m.

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