By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — From his days as a University of Virginia defensive end, Jack English still has gym shorts with No. 91 on them. But he’s older and considerably bigger now, and his home is on the offensive line.
These days English wears No. 67, and his jersey is one UVA fans can expect to see often on the field in the coming weeks. The latest injury to a Virginia offensive lineman Ã¢â‚¬” this time left tackle Michael Mooney Ã¢â‚¬” has meant a promotion to the first team for English, a 6-5, 295-pound redshirt sophomore from St. Christopher’s School in Richmond.
Mooney suffered a lower-leg injury Saturday in the third quarter of Virginia’s game against ACC rival Pittsburgh at Heinz Field and had to be helped to the sideline. English replaced Mooney and went the rest of the way in Virginia’s 26-19 loss.
“That’s another tough dude,” center Jackson Matteo said of English.
To be thrust into a game as he was against Pitt is “definitely a little bit of a challenge,” English said Monday, “but once you’re out there, you’re ready to go â€¦ I think being ready to go whenever your number’s called is important.”
For Virginia (1-4 overall, 0-1 ACC), which hosts Syracuse (3-2, 1-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, its incredible shrinking offensive line has become a major storyline this season.
“We are thin,” head coach Mike London acknowledged Monday during his weekly press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.
Coming out of the spring practice, the Wahoos appeared unusually deep and experienced up front. But a string of injuries has depleted offensive line coach Dave Borbely’s group.
Offensive linemen Ryan Doull, Eric Tetlow and Jake Fieler are among the UVA players out with season-ending injuries, and none of those three appeared in a game this year. Moreover, Sean Karl, who started at left guard against William & Mary and Boise State, missed the Pitt game for medical reasons and was not listed on the depth chart released Monday.
Yet another offensive lineman, Sadiq Olanrewaju, who started two games at tackle in 2014, is still recovering from offseason surgery and has yet to play this fall. The extent of Mooney’s injury wasn’t known Monday afternoon, but he’s not likely to be back in the lineup anytime soon.
“We’ll look at where we are and who we have to go with and move forward,” London said, “because we got a game this Saturday.”
The O-line, Matteo assured reporters Monday, will be “ready to go. Nothing’s changed. We’re ready to win this football game on Saturday, and ready to compete.”
English said: “Everyone wishes those [injured] guys could be with us, but no one’s stressing out about how many guys we have out there or anything.”
He came into the season as the No. 2 left tackle, but most of English’s playing time until the Pitt game had been on special teams. He practiced every day, though, as if he were going to start, and so he was prepared when Borbely put him into the game Saturday at Heinz Field.
“Borbs always did a good job keeping the guys that needed to be ready to go in ready, in terms of getting enough reps in practice,” English said. “Obviously with a few guys down, there’s going to be more reps for everybody, but the key is to always prepare like you’re going to be in the game. And I think that’s something all of us have taken pride in this entire season.”
After graduating from St. Christopher’s in the spring of 2013, English enrolled at UVA that summer. He weighed about 250 pounds and began training camp at defensive end.
As the 2013 season progressed, however, the coaching staff “needed guys to help out on the scout team on offense, so I helped out at tight end,” English said.
The switch wasn’t permanent. In the spring of 2014, he went back to defensive end, but another position change was coming for English. During training camp that summer, he moved to offensive tackle, a position for which he had an ideal frame.
As a redshirt freshman in 2014, English appeared in 11 of Virginia’s 12 games. In six of those games, he played on only special teams, but English also lined up at tackle against Richmond, Kent State, Pitt, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
English was in for 60 plays at tackle against the Seminoles and for 22 against the Hokies.
He played at about 280 pounds for most of last season, which made him light for the position. So he focused on adding good weight “this past summer and got up to about 300,” English said, “and I’m trying to maintain 295 throughout the season.”
The keys, English said, are “trying to eat well and taking advantage of [football strength coach Ryan Tedford’s] program in the weight room.”
At St. Christopher’s, where English also played baseball and basketball, he trained under Bob Blanton, who has worked extensively with professional athletes and U.S. Olympians, as well as Shad Pospahala, who was former Virginia star Chris Long’s personal trainer when Long attended St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville.
Pospahala was an assistant strength and conditioning coach at UVA before leaving for St. Christopher’s in 2007.
English’s journey from St. Christopher’s to UVA is one many have made. About 15 members of his graduating class enrolled at Virginia in the summer of 2013, said English, who was born and raised in Richmond, and he sees fellow Saints in class and on Grounds regularly.
A foreign affairs major, English isn’t sure what career path he will follow once he earns his bachelor’s degree. Law might be an option for him.
His father is an attorney who graduated from UVA’s law school, and his sister is studying law at Boston College, “so it’s kind of in the family tree,” English said.
His experience at the University off the football field has “been great,” English said. On the field, he’s been part of teams that have lost more than they’ve won, but now he’ll play a larger role in trying to help the Cavaliers change their fortunes.
“I’m excited,” English said.
Among ACC teams, Virginia ranks fourth in pass offense, 11th in total offense, 12th in scoring offense, and 14th in rushing offense.
Syracuse has struggled defensively, which could bode well for the ‘Hoos on Saturday. The Orange ranks seventh in the ACC in rushing defense, 12th in scoring defense, 13th in pass defense, and 13th in total defense.
In Canaan Severin and T.J. Thorpe, UVA has a pair of big-play receivers, and tailback Taquan Mizzell has distinguished himself in the passing game. Consistency has eluded the Cavaliers on offense this season, but English is convinced they’re close to finding their rhythm.
“I think we’re definitely right on the edge, but you don’t want to live right on the edge, either,” English said. “You want to be there. I think it’s time for us to have a breakout performance.”