By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — One of the least-heralded members of the UVa football team’s 2013 recruiting class may well make an immediate impact this fall.
Connor Wingo-Reeves, a graduate of Monacan High School in the Richmond area, is one of the seven true freshmen listed on the two-deep Virginia released Monday afternoon. (The others: offensive tackles Sadiq Olanrewaju and Eric Smith, tailback Taquan Mizzell, defensive tackle Donte Wilkins, linebacker Zach Bradshaw and cornerback Tim Harris.)
The 6-3, 220-pound Wingo-Reeves is listed as the No. 2 fullback, behind fifth-year senior Billy Skrobacz.
“Those guys haven’t made very many mistakes, they’ve been very physical, they’re doing the right things, and, man, they’re playing hard,” running backs coach Larry Lewis said last week.
Wingo-Reeves nearly ended up in Philadelphia for college. On the eve of his senior year at Monacan, he committed to Temple. In January, however, he got the scholarship offer for which he was hoping and changed his commitment.
“I just couldn’t turn down UVa,” Wingo-Reeves told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Virginia opens the season Saturday against BYU at 61,500-seat Scott Stadium. As of Monday evening, about 3,900 tickets remained for the 3:30 p.m. game.
Asked Monday if he had expected Wingo-Reeves to crack the two-deep this early, UVa head coach Mike London said, “I don’t know if you envision it … [but] he kind of presented to us early that he had skills to play a position that we need help.”
Lewis, who also coordinates special teams, was asked about Wingo-Reeves’ progress.
“We weren’t sure how far along he was going to be,” Lewis said, “and I think because of his work ethic throughout the summer and where he was able to take his body skills, his strength, speed, all those kind of things, that has enabled him to be a part of what we’re doing.”
Wingo-Reeves has “tremendous effort and energy,” Lewis said. “He’s a guy that really is very mature for his age and really has picked things up, and because of the effort and energy, we’re finding a spot for him. He’s a guy as you look forward into the special teams that I’m trying to get into the rotation, because if he’s going to play as a fullback for us, then obviously [on] special teams this guy should be a four-phase guy. He’s not there yet for Day One, but by the third game, this guy should be playing some games on [special] teams, no doubt.”
Another true freshman who has impressed in Daniel Hamm, a walk-on from Fort Chiswell High in Southwest Virginia who’ll also compete in track and field at UVa.
Hamm, a 5-10, 190-pound tailback, is likely to redshirt this season, but his play during training camp did not escape the coaching staff’s notice.
“I can’t believe that this kid really wasn’t recruited maybe a little bit more highly than he was,” Lewis said. “He really provides some depth for us at this point, and he’s a guy that has really picked up our system and really is starting to make some plays, kind of coming into his own a bit. He’s a guy that we’ll continue to work with for the future. I don’t know that he’s ready to play right now, but he’s a guy that all of a sudden has kind of opened our eyes of possibilities for the future. He does a nice job.”
ROLE MODELS: The Cavaliers’ permanent captains this season are seniors Luke Bowanko, Jake Snyder and Rijo Walker. For each game, a fourth captain will be chosen from the rest of the squad, London said.
Bowanko and Snyder are three-year starters on the offensive line and at defensive end, respectively. Walker, a safety who like London graduated from Bethel High in Hampton, has started only two of the 37 games he’s played at Virginia. But he’s a special teams standout and a vital part of the program, as his status as a captain reflects.
“Rijo’s an interesting guy, because he’s a quiet guy,” Bowanko told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “Obviously he hasn’t seen as much time on the field as a lot of other people, but he does things unquestionably the right way. Even myself, I look up to him in a lot of ways.”
Walker may not start, but he doesn’t complain about his role, and “he still comes to work every day,” Bowanko said. “He takes the same approach every day … He’s just the ultimate team guy. Obviously he’s a huge contributor on special teams, all four phases. He just provides a great example for young guys and old guys like myself.”
Bowanko, always comfortable in front of a microphone, poked fun at Snyder’s prematurely graying hair and joked about the differences between their leadership styles.
“I kind of let him deal with all the discipline stuff, and I’m the good cop,” Bowanko said. “And obviously I play that up much more than it actually is true. I get guys believing that he’s the big, hard guy.”
Snyder shook his head when apprised of Bowanko’s comments.
“Luke likes to take a lot of credit for being the good guy,” Snyder said, smiling. “He likes to think of himself as a nice guy, but when it comes down to it, he’s an enforcer as well. He’s looking out for the well-being of the team, and if someone’s out of line, he’s going to bring him back in line, just like any of the other captains or seniors or older guys on the team will.”
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo entered the month as UVa’s No. 1 center, but a rib injury sidelined him for about a week during training camp, and redshirt sophomore Ross Burbank seized the opportunity.
Burbank, who also has played offensive guard at Virginia, will start at center against BYU. Matteo is listed as his backup.
“That battle had a lot of ups and downs for everyone that was involved,” said Bowanko, who started at center last season but is now at left guard.
“It wasn’t a smooth path for Ross throughout camp. There were some practices where you thought [offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim] was going to rip his head off, but that’s kind of the ebbs and flows of any football camp. The most impressive thing about Ross was the way he handled it. The days when he would come out and maybe struggle a little bit, the next day he’d come out and you’d have to say, `Wow, he had a really great day.’ That’s big when a guy’s growing into a role and you’re trying to gain confidence in the guys you’re playing with.”
Burbank said: “All you can do is work as hard as you can.”
Bowanko made the pre-snaps call for Virginia’s line last season and is capable of handling that assignment again this fall. But that’s typically the job of the center, and Burbank will make the calls Saturday.
“You have to let someone grow into that position,” Bowanko said. “I think what I offer is, it gives him the confidence to know that if he does by chance make the wrong call, that I’ll be there to fix it.
“It takes the thought process away from him. Instead of thinking, `Is this right?’ he just makes the call. Ninety-nine percent of the time he’s been right, and he’s done a great job of it. But obviously I’m there with a lot of experience. I can set him on the straight and narrow and get going.
“Week 1 maybe won’t be his best week of making the calls, but by Week 2, 3, 4, after he gets a couple starts under his belt, I won’t need to make any calls. He’s a smart kid, so he’ll be all right.”
Joining Bowanko and Burbank on the first-team offensive line are senior Morgan Moses at left tackle, junior Conner Davis at right guard and redshirt sophomore Jay Whitmire at right tackle. Of the five, only Whitmire is not sporting a beard.
“He’s the pretty boy of the offensive line,” Burbank said.
NIGHT AND DAY: As sophomores in 2012, Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps started every game at safety for the Wahoos, and their classmates DreQuan Hoskey and Demetrious Nicholson combined for 22 starts at cornerback. (Maurice Canady, a true freshman, started the other two.) Of that group, only Hoskey had redshirted.
“We were one of the youngest secondaries in the country,” Harris recalled. “This year’s it kind of turned around … We’re hoping that can be an advantage for us.”
Harris, one of five players to field questions from media members Monday at JPJ, was asked about UVa’s schedule, perhaps the toughest in the program’s history. A week after hosting BYU, Virginia will take on No. 3 Oregon at Scott Stadium.
“Guys want to create a dream season,” Harris said. “In order to do that, you have to create a dream schedule.”
Kevin Parks, UVa’s starting tailback, voiced a similar opinion.
“I feel like this is a great challenge for us,” Parks said. “I feel like we’re ready for it, and Saturday’s going to be the big kickoff for us, and everybody’s excited. It’s good to have college football back on this Saturday.”