By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the season began, Darious Latimore was easy to overlook in the University of Virginia football program. The depth chart listed Latimore as a second-string cornerback, but he wasn’t starting on any special-teams units and did not play in the Cavaliers’ first two games.
That didn’t faze the redshirt freshman from Lawrenceville, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.
“I just had to work for my playing time,” Latimore said this week. “That’s what everybody has to do when they come in, so I wasn’t really complaining or anything. I just thought that if I continued to work, then I would at least see a little bit of playing time.”
His perseverance has been rewarded. As the end of the season approaches for Virginia (3-7 overall, 2-4 ACC), which hosts Coastal Division foe Duke (6-4, 3-3) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Latimore is no longer in the shadows.
He had a spectacular interception Nov. 7 at Miami and made his first college start last weekend at Louisville. When the Wahoos are in their five- and six-defensive back packages Saturday, expect to see No. 39 on the field.
“Lats is a kid that works hard, stays the course, and has become productive,” defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta said.
The most difficult part for him, Latimore said, has been “settling down to the speed of the game. Or speeding up, rather.”
Still, he’s acquitted himself well. He’s made eight tackles and broken up one pass, and he returned his interception 8 yards against Miami, setting up a field goal by Ian Frye in the final seconds of the first half.
“That’s a testament to him and how hard he works,” Virginia wide receiver Canaan Severin said of Latimore.
“I think he can definitely be a good corner. To be thrown in the fire and play well — he had that interception against Miami — I think it shows what kind of kid he is as well. He’s definitely a tough kid, resilient kid. He’s not going to back down from anyone, and playing defense, I think that’s got to be a big trait for you.”
Playing regularly has been fun, said Latimore, who now starts on the kickoff team.
“I’m just trying to get better,” he said, “because I know how the game is now. Well, not to the full extent, but I’m learning every day, and I’m just trying to stay a student of the game.”
On the depth chart for the Duke game, Latimore is listed behind Maurice Canady at one corner, and Demetrious Nicholson backs up Tim Harris at the other one. At 6-foot, Latimore is not as tall as Canady or Harris — each of whom stands 6-2 — but “he can run,” Severin said. “He gets out and runs.”
At Central Gwinnett High School, Latimore competed in track and field in addition to playing football and basketball. His specialty in track was the 800 meters, and Ryan Tedford, Virginia’s head strength and conditioning coach for football, compares Latimore’s stamina to that of senior defensive end Trent Corney, whose athletic feats have been well-chronicled.
Despite a broken leg that sidelined him for most of his junior football season, Latimore received scholarship offers from Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Appalachian State, among others. He committed to UVA in October 2013 after a visit to Charlottesville, where another player from the Atlanta area, wideout Miles Gooch, hosted him.
“He just told me that I’ve got to come in and start working if I want to earn a spot,” Latimore recalled.
Latimore said he and Ellis “played in seven-on-seven tournaments against each other in high school. I knew of him. I just didn’t know him.”
Ellis, like Latimore, is a redshirt freshman whose role figures to grow in the coming seasons. Ahead of Ellis on the depth chart are two juniors (Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid) and a sophomore (Daniel Hamm), so his breakthrough may not come until 2017.
Latimore is likely to have more opportunities next year. Canady and Nicholson are seniors, which means Latimore and Harris are expected to head into spring ball as the starting cornerbacks.
“It’s going to be a big offseason,” Latimore said. “Me and Tim are going to try our best to get with each other every day of the week, whenever we can, and just keep working together.”
Severin knows better than most how critical the offseason is for a college player. “It’s vital,” he said.
After contributing little as a freshman and sophomore, Severin dropped about 20 pounds in 2014 and established himself as one of the ACC’s top wideouts last season, catching 42 passes for 578 yards and five touchdowns.
“I had to take pride in my weight and what I ate in the offseason if I wanted to produce,” Severin recalled this week. “It was clear that what I was doing before wasn’t working and I couldn’t produce.
“If you really want to do well, you have to sacrifice some things. And that will kind of test how bad [Latimore] really wants it. I hope he goes all in, and he can definitely make an impact through his career here.”
Latimore, who plans to major in studio art, doesn’t need to follow Severin’s exact offseason regimen. The Cavaliers like what they’ve seen from Latimore. They just want to see more of him. Literally.
He weighed 165 pounds when he arrived at UVA in the summer of 2014, and he still weighs 165.
“He definitely needs to gain some weight,” Severin said. “He’s got to take pride in that this offseason if he wants to be productive at this level.”
It’s hard for him to keep weight on, Latimore said, but “I do need to eat more.”
He smiled. “Like non-stop, every day.”
Latimore said Randy Bird, Virginia’s director of sports nutrition, has come up a nutrition plan for him. Adhering to that plan will be priority for Latimore in the offseason. For now, he’s focused on the Cavaliers’ remaining games.
Virginia closes the season Nov. 28 against Virginia Tech at Scott Stadium.
“We’re trying to win the last two games,” said Latimore, who rooms with teammate Tucker Gamble. “We’re trying to send the seniors out on a good note and be 4-4 [in the ACC].”
Those seniors include Nicholson, who started the first 30 games of his college career. Nicholson’s role has shrunk this season — he didn’t play against Louisville — in part because of Latimore’s development, but that hasn’t affected their relationship.
“Actually he’s the one that’s been helping me through the whole thing,” Latimore said. “He stays optimistic about everything, and he always encourages me, no matter what.”
The team has remained positive, too, even though the loss to Louisville means the `Hoos cannot become bowl-eligible this season.
“We’re just a family,” Latimore said. “That’s all we talk about, just staying together and continuing to fight, no matter what, no matter how the season is going.”