By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — After every important regular-season victory, football players and coaches almost invariably say something along these lines: We’re going to enjoy this win tonight and then turn our focus to our next game tomorrow.
For the Virginia Cavaliers, who ended a stretch of 10 consecutive ACC losses Saturday with a 23-21 victory over then-No. 21 Louisville at Scott Stadium, that was easier said than done.
“I can’t lie,” junior wide receiver Canaan Severin said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “It was kind of hard, but that’s where our leaders do such a good job.”
The victory over Louisville delighted Coley, Virginia’s stellar middle linebacker. It worried him, too. And so he texted Mike London around 10:30 p.m. Saturday and asked his head coach to notify Virginia’s players that a meeting would be held early Sunday afternoon at the McCue Center.
To call such a meeting is “unusual after a win, a big win,” London acknowledged Monday at JPJ. Still, he trusts Coley, whom London called “as good as any leader that’s been here since I’ve been here or any other place.”
The win over Louisville in their ACC opener improved the Cavaliers’ overall record to 2-1. With his fellow captains alongside him, Coley reminded their teammates Sunday that the Wahoos also had been 2-1 in 2012 and in `13.
The `Hoos finished 4-8 in 2012. They dipped to 2-10 last season.
“Louisville can go on and win nine games,” Coley told reporters Monday, “and we can still end up being that team that goes 2-10 at the end of the day if we get complacent about these wins and think that we have all the answers as a team.”
Another opportunity — and challenge — awaits the Cavaliers this weekend in Provo, Utah. UVa meets No. 21 BYU (3-0) on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s season-opener. ESPN will televise the 3:30 p.m. game.
“We just gotta stay hungry,” Severin said. “Henry just wanted to get that point across: You can’t be satisfied just by getting that big win. We want more wins than that.”
Coley invited other players to speak up at the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes, and several did, including defensive tackle Andrew Brown, a true freshman from Chesapeake.
“It was a good meeting,” Severin said. “Honestly, I feel like people respect Henry so much, when he talks the whole room is quiet, and people sit up and they listen.”
Coley said: “We got a lot of things off each other’s chests. I just wanted to check the mentality of the team, and just reiterate not to get complacent.”
Virginia beat a marquee opponent (Penn State) early in 2012 and another (BYU) last season, Coley noted, but failed to build on the victories.
Penn State, meanwhile, bounced back from its loss at Scott Stadium to post an 8-4 record in 2012. BYU won eight regular-season games last year and played in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Each season, Coley said, the Cavaliers “were just sitting at home watching [PSU and BYU] play in December and January. We can’t have that same thing this year. I just want the guys not to be complacent and not to be comfortable.”
Virginia opened this season, its fifth under London, with a 28-20 loss to then-No. 7 UCLA at Scott Stadium, a game Coley believes his team should have won. The Cavaliers got their first victory a week later, routing Richmond 45-13 at Scott Stadium, and then rallied to edge Louisville on a late field goal by junior Ian Frye.
The `Hoos have shown resilience, heart and unity, among other qualities, this season, Coley said. But he told his teammates Sunday that “we need consistency if we are to go on throughout the rest of the season and actually have the success that a team like ours could have.”
The Cavaliers haven’t finished above .500 since 2011, when they won eight games and advanced to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
In 2010, Virginia went 4-8, and the team’s mentality changed in ’11, Coley said, thanks to the efforts of such seniors as Rodney McLeod, Matt Conrath, Chase Minnifield and Cameron Johnson.
“You could tell they were just fed up, and they were willing to do whatever it takes to win,” Coley said, “and I feel like that’s the mentality now, and a lot of guys are just playing together … I feel like we’re learning to win again.”
London said he’s noticed a change, too.
“I’ve heard the chatter up and down the hallway and in the locker room about staying focused and not settling for anything, and that’s something different that we haven’t had in the past,” London said.
Driving it all are UVa’s seniors, who “want their legacy to be something positive, something that can last, that will last for other guys that are in the program now,” London said.
“We had that bad taste in our mouth, going 2-10,” senior cornerback Brandon Phelps said. “We definitely don’t want that to feel again.”
Throughout the offseason, the players emphasized team unity and chemistry, and that has paid dividends.
“We’re a family,” said redshirt sophomore Wilfred Wahee, a special-teams standout. “That’s the thing that everybody will tell you. We’re much closer than we were in years past, and we’re brothers. Everybody shares, everybody talks about whatever’s on their heart. So that’s a big difference in years past.”
At halftime Saturday, Virginia led Louisville 10-7. With a chance to end a streak of 11 consecutive losses to Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the Cavaliers were determined not to squander it.
“Right before we started the third quarter,” Severin recalled Monday, “Anthony Harris came up to me and [senior wideout] Miles Gooch and just told us, `This is the game right here. I can feel it. This is where we get over the hump.’ ”
It’s too early to say if the `Hoos are indeed over the hump. As much as the win over Louisville meant to Coley, who broke down and cried in the locker room afterward, he knows one victory does not a turnaround make. His teammates seem to understand that, too.
“We can talk about the win for the whole week, or we can prepare for BYU, and that’s what we did yesterday,” Severin said Monday. “We started preparing for BYU, and that’s what we gotta keep on doing.”
Coley, a graduate of Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, leads the team in tackles (29) and tackles for loss (6), and he’s tied with sophomore linebacker Max Valles for the lead in sacks (3.5). Coley has also broken up three passes and forced a team-high two fumbles this season.
“He just plays with a chip on his shoulder, and it’s contagious,” Phelps said.
As important as Coley’s production, though, has been the example he sets for his teammates.
“That takes some leadership to call that [Sunday] meeting and say, `We’re not there yet. We can keep going. We haven’t hit the glass ceiling yet,’ ” Severin said.
“I think that he’s one of the bigger reasons that this team is going to go far, and this team is going to have the success it’s going to have, based on actions like that.”
Wahee said: “He certainly demands respect.”