By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PINEHURST, N.C. — Stanford ended the 2014 football season in a bowl game, as did dozens of other teams, among them Maryland, North Carolina and Arizona.
Virginia hasn’t advanced to a bowl since 2011, but hopes to end that streak this year.
If the Cavaliers do so, it may be partly because of contributions they receive from players who transferred into head coach Mike London’s program this summer from Stanford, Maryland, UNC and Arizona: tight end Charlie Hopkins, tailback Albert Reid, wide receiver/return specialist T.J. Thorpe and quarterback Connor Brewer, respectively.
The newcomers are “four guys that can help us win on the football field,” London told reporters Tuesday morning at ACC Football Kickoff, the conference’s annual preseason media gathering.
Moreover, each of the transfers will have an undergraduate degree by the time UVa opens training camp next month.
“So there’s a level of academic accomplishment that they have,” London said.
Such transfers are becoming increasingly common in college football, and UVa has lost players who transferred out after graduating with eligibility remaining, most recently quarterback Greyson Lambert.
“That’s the lay of the land right now,” London said.
Brewer, who began his college career at Texas, where he redshirted in 2012, sat out the 2013 season after transferring to Arizona. He played in two games for the Wildcats last season.
When Brewer enrolled at Texas, the Longhorns’ head coach was Mack Brown, now a commentator for ABC and ESPN. Brown was in Pinehurst for the ACC Kickoff and played golf Monday with London and London’s youngest son, Korben.
During the round, London said, he and Brown “had a chance to talk about Connor a little bit. Let’s just say we’re excited about a skillful player, a guy that’s very highly talented.”
The other three transfers are likely to see more playing time, at least early in the season.
Reid, who received a hardship waiver for the 2014 season, when an injury limited him to four games, rushed 122 times for 447 yards and three touchdowns at Maryland. A 5-9, 210-pound junior, he has two years of eligibility left.
“We expect him to compete and come in and play,” London said. “He will definitely get an opportunity. It’ll make us stronger.”
Like Thorpe, Hopkins (Spokane, Wash.) has one season of eligibility left. At 6-6, 260 pounds, Hopkins is a formidable blocker who should prove valuable in Virginia’s running game. He caught only two passes during his career at Stanford, where he began as a defensive lineman.
“That’s my guy right there,” UVa wide receiver Canaan Severin said Monday in Pinehurst when asked about Hopkins. “He’s a big boy, so I had to make him my guy. Don’t want to have any problems with him.
“I’m excited for him too. He loves to work. He loves the process. And the thing with him is, he’s coming from a great program, from great coaches and a great culture, and he’s helping bring that to us.”
Thorpe, who’s from Durham, N.C., was the first of the four to arrive at UVa, where he enrolled in January. The 6-0, 210-pound Thorpe, whose UNC career was marred by foot injuries, came out of spring practice as a starter at one of the receiver spots.
In three seasons with the Tar Heels, he caught 42 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns. Thorpe also returned 59 kickoffs for 1,448 yards — an average of 24.5 yards per return — and one touchdown.
FAST FRIENDS: London has had several opportunities this year to spend time with Brown, one of whose daughters, Barbara Brown Wilson, is an assistant professor of urban and environmental planning at UVa.
In 29 seasons as a head coach — at Tulane, North Carolina and Texas — Brown compiled a record of 238-117-1.
He’s a “coach that has been there and done a lot of things,” London said, “has seen the highs and lows of this profession. He said he’s not tired, he’s rewired, so to speak. He has interest in Virginia in that there’s a family member that works at the University, so there’s a lot of opportunities to speak to a guy like Coach Brown.”
Brown is “an excellent resource,” London said, and “we’ll continue staying in touch with each other.”
MAKING CONNECTIONS: London has had only one winning record in his five seasons at UVa, where his record is 23-28, but his program continues to land commitments from players in the Class of 2016.
For this recruiting success, London credits the relationships he and his assistants have built with high school players and their coaches.
Moreover, he said, recruiting is “about opportunities, particularly at Virginia. It’s no small secret that the school has done well, our athletic teams have done well, and you’ve gotten that national exposure. And obviously when you’re on TV, whether it’s basketball, baseball, whatever it might be, and the commentators are talking about the school and the people there, then that’s a part of recruiting that you get that definitely you can use to your advantage.
“Virginia’s a brand that resonates with people.”
London’s message to his current players, who are aware of the speculation about his job security?
“Don’t worry about what anybody else says,” he said. “Just focus on what we are, who we are, and what we can do for this team.”
London said it’s “my job, it’s my obligation, it’s my responsibility to help this team be successful, and that’s all I’m focused on.”
MARQUEE MATCH-UPS: Virginia opens the season Sept. 5 at UCLA, then meets Notre Dame at Scott Stadium a week later. UVa hosts Boise State on Sept. 25 in a Friday night game that ESPN will televise.
Winning some or all of those games would give the Cavaliers “an opportunity for a special season,” London said.
In 2014, Virginia finished 5-7. One of its losses, to North Carolina, was by a single point. UVa closed the season with a four-point loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. A victory in that game would have made the `Hoos bowl-eligible.
The Cavaliers were confident heading into the season finale in 2014, and that’s “something that we still have this year,” Dean said Monday at Pinehurst “We have that confidence. We believe we can play with the best teams.”
INTO THE FIRE: The position at which the Cavaliers have the least depth, linebacker, is also the spot at which they’re the least experienced. From its 2014 season, Virginia lost all three starting linebackers: Daquan Romero, Henry Coley and Max Valles.
Of the returning linebackers, only junior Zach Bradshaw has started a college game, and that was in 2013, against Georgia Tech.
Two linebackers, Caanan Brown and Jordan Jackson, recently left the team, and several true freshmen are likely to be pressed into service this fall. That group includes C.J. Stalker, who enrolled at UVa in January and participated in spring practice, and classmates Eric Gallon, Dominic Sheppard, Jahvoni Simmons and Gladimir Paul.
Associate head coach Mike Archer, who worked with Virginia’s safeties in 2014, is now overseeing the linebackers, and he brings extensive experience to his new post. Archer previously coached linebackers at UVa (1991 and ’92), at Kentucky (1993-95) and with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-2002).
“He’s done it at the highest level,” London said, “and I feel confident that he’ll develop these younger players to go in and play and help us.”
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Virginia’s defensive backs include seniors Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady, who have 53 career starts between them, and Quin Blanding, who started all 12 games and led the team in tackles as a true freshman last season.
Another veteran is Tim Harris, who started seven games as a true freshman in 2013 and five last season. At 6-2, 200 pounds, Harris has excellent size for a cornerback, and he runs well. But uneven performances have marked his first two seasons as a Cavalier.
“The consistent Tim Harris is what we’re looking for,” London said. “Tim has to have a good year for us.
“We’ve seen the high end of good, almost to great, and we’ve seen the low end of not playing with confidence. When you get older, more mature, those things start to develop, and I’ve seen that in Tim, not only in the classroom, which is important, but decisions off the field. And just look at him. He’s physically gifted. He can run, he’s tall, and he’s played against really good teams.”
PERSEVERANCE REWARDED: Senior Ian Frye, who made 22 of 27 field-goal attempts last season, isn’t the only special-teams standout who came to UVa as a walk-on and has since been put on scholarship.
“It’s always important to me [to reward] walk-ons that come in and contribute and show ability,” London said.