By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Nobody has to remind UVa football coach Mike London what a strong start to the season would mean for his team.
Virginia opens Aug. 31 against BYU, then meets Oregon on Sept. 7. Both games are at Scott Stadium, with 3:30 p.m. starts.
“They’re huge,” London said Monday at ACC Football Kickoff when asked about the Cavaliers’ first two games.
“It’s a way to make a mark for your program. Obviously they’re very challenging, and everyone understands that. Our approach to it is that you can control the destiny of how you are and how you are perceived by the way you play. We want to play well enough to win. And being at home, in front of a packed crowd, that would be awesome. Our players, that’s all they think about it.”
The announcement that UVa and Oregon had agreed on a two-game series — the teams will meet in Eugene in 2016 — came Jan. 28. Virginia’s series with BYU had been announced previously.
The day of the Oregon announcement, UVa’s players “were all in the weight room, I remember, and everybody was fired up,” senior defensive end Jake Snyder recalled Sunday. “There was a little extra energy in the weight room that day, a little extra spunk in the lift, because we do want the best teams coming in here. We got eight home games, and we’ve got some very good teams coming to Charlottesville, and that’s an exciting opportunity. Any time you get an opportunity to play a top-10 team — or a top-25 team, for that matter — it’s an exciting opportunity to get another win.”
London said UVa’s willingness to schedule tough non-conference games has made his program more attractive to recruits.
“I welcome the challenge of that, because that’s what young men want to do: They want to play teams like that,” London said.
COMMITMENT REWARDED: Three players who came to UVa as walk-ons have been put on scholarship since the end of last season: long-snapper Matt Fortin, punter Alec Vozenilek and reserve fullback Billy Skrobacz.
“It’s always rewarding to me to reward the hard work of walk-ons,” London said, “because there’s a lot of guys that have come to Virginia as walk-ons and earned scholarships and done significant things at Virginia.”
One of those players was Jake Snyder’s older brother, Matt, a wide receiver whose final season at Virginia was 2011. The Snyders graduated from Deep Run High School, as did Skrobacz, who’s “been one of my best friends for nine years,” Jake said.
“I actually played little league football with him. We grew up together pretty much. You won’t find a more loyal friend, and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity for him to be on my team for so long.”
For Skrobacz, who graduated in May, to receive a scholarship for his fifth season at UVa was “a really exciting thing for him, and well-deserved,” Jake Snyder said. “I know I’m proud of him, and the rest of the team is proud of him too.”
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH: The Wahoos don’t have much depth or experience on either line, but that’s not the case at wide receiver and defensive back.
At wideout, returning players include senior Tim Smith, juniors Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell, E.J. Scott and Miles Gooch, and sophomores Adrian Gamble and Canaan Severin. Also back are Kyle Dockins and Jamall Brown, who redshirted as freshmen last season.
In the secondary, returning players include juniors Demetrious Nicholson and DreQuan Hoskey and sophomore Maurice Canady at cornerback, and juniors Brandon Phelps and Anthony Harris and senior Rijo Walker at safety.
Nicholson, Phelps and Harris started all 12 games last season. Hoskey started 10 and Canady two.
“That’s a great young nucleus of defensive backs and definitely has to be a strength for us,” London said.
Virginia’s top returning receivers — Smith, Jennings, Terrell and Scott — are all 6-0 or shorter. Gooch and Dockins are listed at 6-3, however, and Severin at 6-2, and the Cavaliers’ true freshmen include wideouts Andre Levrone (6-2) and Keeon Johnson (6-3).
Some receivers are known for their speed, others for their size. “I think you want to get to a point where you have a receiver that can do a lot of things, can do it all,” London said.
Former UVa standout Kris Burd was that kind of player, London noted. “He was a guy that can run, and he can block, and he was a no-nonsense, no-fear type of guy.”
Of his current receivers, London said, “I think a healthy Tim Smith can definitely do it all, and right now he’s healthy. He’s our fastest guy on our team right now, so he’s that deep-threat guy.”
Smith also is an effective blocker, London said. “He’s got that mentality and that mindset. So we’re expecting big things from Tim.”
Injuries limited Smith to nine games as a redshirt junior in 2012. He finished the season with 20 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns.
Redshirt sophomore David Dean, who sparkled in the spring and is projected to start alongside Urban at tackle, was in for only 83 plays in 2012.
“Staying healthy is huge this year,” Snyder said. “There are things you can’t control, obviously, there are going to be freak injuries that happen, but staying healthy is a big focus for us this year, and that’s something that [strength and conditioning coach] Evan Marcus has done a great job preparing us for.
“Last year we had a couple guys go down with hamstring injuries, so we’ve done more hamstring work this summer than I’ve ever done in my life. Same with the shoulders. And Evan is really focused in one what happened last year that caused some guys to get injured, and we’ve really focused on fixing those things.”
True freshmen Tyrell Chavis and Donte Wilkins are among the defensive tackles expected to compete for spots on the two-deep. Also, don’t be surprised if Snyder and Moore (and oft-injured sophomore Marco Jones) cross-train at end and tackle.
“It just kind of depends on the way things shake out on the defensive line,” Snyder said. “If I’m needed on the interior, then I’ll go ahead and do that. I don’t have a whole lot of experience there, but I have practiced [at tackle] a bit, so we’ll see how it goes. We’re not particularly deep. We got a couple freshmen coming in that look like they’re pretty good players. They’re highly recruited, so we’ll see how they pan out.
“If they’re ready, that would be a huge boost for our defensive line, adding that depth. If not, whatever rotation works out, I’ll be happy with that.”
As true freshmen last season, Harold and Moore were in for 463 and 198 plays, respectively.
“The game experience is invaluable,” Snyder said. “As a freshman, if you’re not going to redshirt, you want to be on the field, contributing and playing games, and making those mistakes you can learn from. And they both did that, and they’ve both grown a tremendous amount in the offseason, and I think you’re going to see big things from both.”
ELITE COMPANY: In the past decade alone, such offensive linemen as Elton Brown, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brad Butler, Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe and Oday Aboushi, all NFL draft picks, have starred at Virginia.
`Definitely it’s a great tradition to be a part of,” said senior offensive tackle Morgan Moses, UVa’s lone representative on the preseason All-ACC team selected by media members in Greensboro.
“But at the same time I have to go out there and make my own road and make my own résumé as I play.”
The 6-6, 335-pound Moses said he has enjoyed meeting his esteemed predecessors at UVa, “seeing those guys and talking to them about, `What technique can I use for this?’ and `What can I do better to do this?’ To have those guys to be mentors is a great deal for us.”
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Training camp opens Monday, Aug. 5., and the Cavaliers’ first three practices (Aug. 5, 6 and 7) will be open to the public.
Practice is scheduled to start at 3:40 p.m. and last about two hours each day. The `Hoos practice on the fields behind University Hall and the McCue Center. Fans can park in the U-Hall and John Paul Jones Arena lots.
Also, UVa will host Movie Night at Scott Stadium on Aug. 3. Starting at 6 p.m., the family film Madagascar 3 will be shown on the stadium’s Hoo Vision videoboard.
Finally, the football program’s annual Meet the Team Day will be Sunday, Aug. 18 at JPJ, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Admission is free to all of these events.