By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — LaChaston Smith enrolled at UVa in January, so he has a healthy head start on the other players who will make up the first-year class in the Cavaliers’ football program this fall. Smith, a linebacker from Statesville, N.C., knows his way around Grounds and has at least a basic understanding of how the University works.
At 9 a.m. Tuesday, 26 of Smith’s new classmates — 19 scholarship players and seven walk-ons — will gather in the McCue Center for an orientation program. For nearly three hours, the players and their parents will hear from a variety of speakers, starting with Adrien Harraway, UVa’s associate athletics director for academic affairs, and ending with head football coach Mike London.
Others who’ll address the players include representatives of the compliance and financial aid departments, UVa sports psychologist Jim Bauman, learning specialist Shelly Lovelace, equipment room managers Kyle Riley and Reed Moses, athletic trainer Jimmy Smuda, strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus, and assistant dean Rachel Most, who works with UVa’s student-athletes. The players and their parents will hear, among other things, about the University’s honor system.
Overseeing the program is another speaker, Natalie Fitzgerald, director of academic affairs for the football team.
As dizzying as orientation can be for the new players, Fitzgerald said last week, “it would be even more overwhelming if we hadn’t done April 6.”
That was the day of the Cavaliers’ spring game. Before heading to Scott Stadium, the incoming recruits who were able to make it to Charlottesville, and their parents, convened at the McCue Center to begin the transition process. The meeting lasted about three hours.
“We meet in the team room,” Fitzgerald said, “and we say, `You are now a member of the University of Virginia football team. From this moment on you’re now becoming acclimated and a member of our team, and these are the things you need to do.’ ”
Each player was given a manual, as were parents. The manual, in a three-ring notebook, listed “every single person that they’re going to come in contact with,” Fitzgerald said.
“It has a welcome letter from Coach London, it has the administrative component, it has the academic component, it has compliance, sports medicine, psychology, nutrition, equipment room, media relations, all their documents, all their forms. It has everything that they need to do, so [when the players arrive Tuesday] they’re ready to go.”
The orientation program has evolved during Fitzgerald’s seven years at UVa.
“Over the years we’ve tried to fine-tune it a little bit more, so that it’s not so chaotic the first day,” she said. “We’ve been more proactive on the front end.”
Because “there are so many things to get done and so many things to accomplish,” Fitzgerald said, “we tend to take it in little baby steps, and we lay out a timeline, and we say to them, `On May 1 we’re going to contact you, and we’re going to give you three things to do.’ There are so many things to do. You gotta take your computing ID test. You gotta set up your UVa email. You gotta do this. You gotta do that. There are just so many things to do, so many hoops to jump through.”
For the past two months, Fitzgerald and her staff periodically have contacted the incoming players to check on their progress in completing the various tasks.
“Because if you haven’t done all those things,” Fitzgerald said, “then Tuesday’s a whole lot more overwhelming, because then we have to do all that.”
The freshmen will be housed in a dorm until the start of training camp in early August, at which point they’ll move with the rest of the team into the Cavalier Inn hotel. When training camp breaks, the first-year players will move into their permanent dorms for 2013-14.
For many of the newcomers, this will be the first time they haven’t lived with a parent. At the orientation program Tuesday, Bauman will talk about how “it’s OK to be homesick,” Fitzgerald said, “and he’ll talk to the parents about some of the strategies they can use when their sons call home and tell their parents they’re homesick.”
The incoming freshmen are enrolled in the third session of summer school, which starts Monday. They’ll stay busy until then.
“They hit the ground running,” Fitzgerald said.
The University has an orientation program for student-athletes Wednesday. Also that day, Fitzgerald said, Most and the academic coordinators for football “will work with the newcomers for two or three hours on fall schedules, looking at classes, getting them registered for their fall classes.”
That evening, the freshmen will board a bus and trace the various University bus routes, essential information for young men who during the school year often will have little time to get from practice to class.
On Thursday, London will host a July 4th cookout for players, who’ll be back at the McCue Center on Friday to meet with the academic support staff.
“We’ll go over study hall expectations, academic expectations, class expectations,” Fitzgerald said. “Then we will start required study hall Monday afternoon. And the first-years will have study hall two hours a day, four days a week.”
The freshmen will do more than study this month. They’ll be training with Marcus, who after signing day in February sent them recommended workouts for the spring.
The freshmen’s strength and conditioning program starts Monday. Marcus will have only about three weeks with the newcomers before training camp begins, and that limits what he can accomplish this summer.
“You teach them technique,” Marcus said. “That’s the main thing in the weight room. You’re teaching them: `OK, this is how I want everybody to squat. This is how I want everybody to clean.’ But what you’re really trying to do with them is mentor them into the culture of UVa football. They have to understand the process and they have to understand the culture, so you have to mentor them into that process.
“It’s very hard to command them to do things when they don’t understand what it means to be a UVa football player. So now you’re just teaching them that, and that’s what the whole first year is about: teaching them how to manage their lives as a UVa football player, how to lift and train like a UVa football player, how to practice like a UVa football player, how to eat like a Division I athlete.”
At least some of the newcomers will play for the Wahoos this fall. In 2010, London’s first season as UVa’s head coach, he played three true freshmen. The total rose to 12 in 2011 and then dropped to nine last season.
It’s hard to predict before training camp, said UVa’s new defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta, how many true freshmen will be able to handle the rigors of Division I football.
It comes down to “the young man’s maturity level,” Tenuta said. “And I’ve been blessed to be around some guys that could handle it very fast. But you’re expecting a lot if you’re going, `This guy’s gotta play for us.’ You gotta take it a step at a time, step at a time, as you’re climbing the ladder. You can’t expect them to all of the sudden be on the third floor when they start on the ground level.”
The scholarship players in UVa’s first-year class are, in alphabetical order: George Adeosun, Zach Bradshaw, Tyrell Chavis, Malcolm Cook, Jack English, Kirk Garner, Tim Harris, Keeon Johnson, Micah Kiser, Andre Levrone, Brendan Marshall, Jack McDonald, Taquan Mizzell, Sadiq Olanrewaju, Eric Smith, LaChaston Smith, Eric Tetlow, Max Valles, Donte Wilkins and Connor Wingo-Reeves.