By Jeff White (email@example.com)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — The media’s preseason poll for ACC football was released Monday at the Grandover Resort, and to no one’s surprise UVa received by far the fewest votes of any of the seven Coastal Division teams.
The Cavaliers are coming off a 2-10 season in which they did not win a conference game.
“I’m not one of those guys that cuts out the press clippings of what comes out of here,” Virginia head coach Mike London told reporters at the annual ACC Kickoff gathering. “But like I mentioned [earlier], 2013 was very humbling, and 2014, we’re hungry.”
London patiently answered scores of questions Monday, and many of them concerned his job security. His record in four seasons as the Wahoos’ head coach is 18-31.
“My focus is just on this team. I can’t help what’s being said or what’s being written,” London said.
“All I’m focusing on is what we need to take care of, and that’s the play on the field and the performance on the field.”
Media prognostications aside, UVa returns multiple starters on each side of the ball, including All-America safety Anthony Harris and second-team All-ACC tailback Kevin Parks. Moreover, this will be the Cavaliers’ second season under coordinators Steve Fairchild (offense), Jon Tenuta (defense) and Larry Lewis (special teams).
“There’s an experience and depth level to a team that can perform better with systems and coordinators that are here for the second year, and I think that’s all part of the process,” London said. “We’re older, we’re unified, and there is an expectation of performance.”
Harris said: “I think as far as individual talent, if you look around, we have just as good players as any other team in the ACC. It’s all about how well we play as a team. Sometimes you turn on Saturday TV, and you see teams that don’t have individual great talent, but they’re great teams. Football is about 11 players playing on one page for four quarters, and if we can do that, we feel like we’ll be where we want to be at the end of the season.”
SIGNIFICANT LOSS: London’s biggest concern heading into training camp is probably his offensive line. Junior Jay Whitmire, the projected starter at left tackle, has a back problem that will sideline him for at least the early part of the season.
Whitmire started all 12 games last season, four at right tackle and eight at right guard. In his absence, the Cavaliers’ first-team offense could include three linemen who played as true freshmen last season: center Eric Tetlow and tackles Eric Smith and Sadiq Olanrewaju.
“Finding a guy that can protect the blind side of the quarterback is critical for us, and we’ve got to do it with the guys we have,” London said.
Coming out of spring practice, the starting offensive line consisted of Whitmire at left tackle, senior Conner Davis at left guard, Tetlow at center, junior Ross Burbank at right guard, and Smith at right tackle.
ROLE MODELS: In 2013-14, most of UVa’s teams distinguished themselves, including men’s and women’s soccer, each of which played in the NCAA semifinals, men’s basketball, which swept the ACC’s regular-season and tournament titles, and baseball, which reached the College World Series.
Football was one of the few exceptions.
“If that didn’t motivate the team, I wonder what we kind of men our players are on our team,” Parks said Sunday in Greensboro. “Because everybody else in the school was doing [well]. Baseball, basketball, soccer, you name it, lacrosse. It’s crazy at our school. Everybody’s doing [well].
“It’s kind of like pressure: Those guys do it. Why can’t we do it? And that’s what it is: Why can’t we?”
London is well aware of the accomplishments of Virginia’s other teams, and he wants his players to aspire to similar success.
“I’ve been telling our guys, `Hey, walk around Grounds with your head up now, because this is a new team. This is a new opportunity. Last year was last year,’ ” London said Monday.
INSTANT IMPACT? Virginia’s most heralded newcomers include Quin Blanding, a 6-4, 210-pound safety from Bayside High in Virginia Beach.
Not only is Blanding a virtual lock to play as a true freshman this fall, he could challenge senior Brandon Phelps for a starting job.
“You never want to put too much on incoming freshman, but the reality of it is, he’s a very talented player,” London said.
However, London cautioned, Blanding has yet to take part in his first practice at Virginia, so the “speed [with] which he learns will be important. Again, if he is ready to play, then we will play him, without a doubt.”
Harris, who led the nation in interceptions, played as a true freshman in 2011.
Asked what advice he has for Blanding, Harris said, “I would just say do more listening than talking. Or if you’re going to talk, ask questions. Pick out one of the guys who’s in a position where you want to be, whether it’s academically or football-wise, and get to know him a little bit. Get to know your coaches. Pick at them. You’re here. You want to do football, so gain as much knowledge as you can.
“As far as class, decide what you want to do. Be very focused in that. Try to get on track so later in your career you’ll be on pace to graduate early or pursue your master’s degree, if that’s something you want to do.”
Harris’ primary mentor in 2011 was Rodney McLeod, now a starting safety with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.
“In the classroom, he was on top of his game,” Harris recalled Sunday, “and on the field his work ethic and preparation was second to none. So he’s one guy who is very hard-working, humble, who had some success who I kind of followed behind.”
Harris also admired the passion with which older teammates LaRoy Reynolds and Corey Mosley played.
“So I tried to take all of the positive things that I saw in people and pick a little bit and put together and mold it to who I wanted to be,” Harris said. “And also I took some of the negative things that I saw [in other players] and tried to stay away from it and avoid it and not make the same mistakes that they made.”
READY FOR PRIME TIME: Defensive end Mike Moore, son of UVa football legend Shawn Moore, was one of the most celebrated recruits in the class that joined London’s program in 2012, and he played in all 12 games as a true freshman that fall.
Moore appeared in 11 games last season but posted modest statistics, finishing with 16 tackles and one sack. He impressed during spring practice this year, however, and appears poised for a breakthrough season as a starter.
The 6-4, 270-pound Moore, a graduate of DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md., has gone through “the growth process of getting bigger, faster, stronger, becoming a guy that knows the defense well,” London said.
“Mike’s got a chance to step up and be a significant contributor, and I know he wants to do that. I believe his work ethic now has matched his want-to and his desire.”
Lambert is “representative of what a player should be,” London said. “I’m not saying anything against David, because David, again, is a young man that’s very bright and very much a part of this team’s success. But Greyson has taken the reins, and he’s gone full steam ahead with them.”
Though Lambert is only a redshirt sophomore, his teammates voted him one of the Cavaliers’ captains. The other captains — Harris, Parks and linebacker Henry Coley — are seniors.
“He has that leadership that everybody’s going to look up to,” Parks said of Lambert.
London was asked Monday if Watford would be content as the No. 2 quarterback.
“If you’re a competitor, I don’t know if you’re ever happy [about] being a backup, particularly if you’ve been a starter,” London said. “What I believe is he’s going to give his best effort to change his opportunities once again. I believe that about David Watford. David’s a great kid. Very athletic, very talented, and having him on the field helps us, makes us a better football team. But that’s yet to be decided by him with his on-the-field performance.”
Watford worked some at wide receiver during spring practice. Could he play wideout this fall?
“Don’t know that for sure, but all options are open,” London said. “I know David wants to be evaluated as a quarterback, and we will give him every opportunity to be evaluated as a quarterback.”
QUESTION MARK: Wide receiver Dominique Terrell is recovering from a hernia injury that required surgery, London said, and could end up sitting out this season.
Terrell played as a true freshman in 2011 and so has a redshirt year available.
In his three seasons as a Cavalier, Terrell has caught 60 passes for 641 yards and one touchdown. On special teams, he’s returned 32 punts for 142 yards.