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April 5, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — On national signing day in February 2016, the University of Virginia announced a recruiting class that included an outside linebacker from Lilburn, Georgia, who was listed at 6-3, 235 pounds.

Even then, however, the Cavaliers’ coaches doubted Juwan Moye would ever play that position in college, and that was confirmed when he arrived in Charlottesville last summer.

“We knew he was going to be a lineman,” Ruffin McNeill recalled Tuesday. “He’s not as agile as [outside linebacker] Chris Peace and those guys.”

When training camp opened in August, Moye moved to defensive end. He played there last season, mostly in UVA’s nickel package. He weighed about 255 pounds then. He’s now close to 280 and has emerged this spring as a strong candidate to replace Donte Wilkins at nose tackle in the Cavaliers’ base defense, a 3-4.

“He’s coming around,” said McNeil, who along with graduate assistant Vic So’oto coaches Virginia’s defensive linemen.

“He’s still young, but he’s got explosion and twitch, and he’s really a smart football player who understands the schemes well. Now he’s got to learn great technique.”

To be working with the first-team defense at a new position, less than a year removed from high school, has not fazed Moye.

“It’s a change, but my thing coming in was to help the team and do whatever the team needed,” Moye said after practice Tuesday morning at Scott Stadium. “That was the biggest thing: No matter where you put me, I want to play.

“One thing my dad always told me is, `Don’t label yourself.’ And then when we got here, [the coaches] said, `The more you know, the more you know, and the more you can do, the more you can do.’ So I wasn’t hurt when they moved me. I knew I could change positions at any time.”

Virginia, which finished 2-10 in 2016, its first season under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, started spring practice late last month. Moye and his teammates spent the first two months of the semester training in director of football performance Frank Wintrich’s winter strength and conditioning program.

For the offensive and defensive linemen, include nose tackles Moye and James Trucilla, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, the goal was to get significantly bigger and stronger. They succeeded.

“I’m a lot stronger,” Moye said.

Meetings with Randy Bird, Virginia’s director of sports nutrition, helped Moye devise a plan for bulking up. “You want to put on good weight,” Moye said, “and Randy has given me a good diet to work with.”

Meal time can be a workout too, Moye said, smiling. “Like Coach Wintrich and [Trucilla] say, there’s a four-plate minimum when you go to the dining hall.”

A graduate of Parkview High near Atlanta, Moye hopes to get up to 285 pounds by the start of the season and eventually to 290. For now, though, “because he’s not 300 pounds, like Donte was, he’s got to rely on his quickness and technique to be successful,” McNeil said.

Wilkins, who was listed last season at 6-1, 300, was a traditional two-gap nose tackle. He lined up directly across from the center and was responsible for the gap on either side of him.

Whether the Cavaliers’ current nose tackles — Moye and Trucilla — can thrive as two-gap linemen will be determined this spring, said Mendenhall, who’s also the Wahoos’ defensive coordinator.

“What our defense will look like will have a lot to do with how [the nose tackles] play,” Mendenhall said. “We’ll utilize our personnel in the best way possible, no matter what scheme that’ll come in.

“We’ve already taken a few steps in branching off of what we traditionally do, just to use our current personnel, and when the fall comes we’ll see how that sorts out with the addition of more depth.”

Virginia’s defensive ends include Eli Hanback, Andrew Brown, Jack Powers, Christian Baumgardner, Christian Brooks and Steven Wright. There’s more depth at end than at nose tackle, but Powers can move to the middle when needed. Moreover, one of the freshmen who’ll join the program this summer, Mandy Alonso, is expected to play nose tackle.

“He’s bigger and stronger than both Juwan and [Trucilla],” McNeil said of Alonso, “so he’ll get an early shot as well.”

Moye studied the Cavaliers’ veteran defensive linemen closely last year, whether it was Brown at end or Wilkins at nose. Moye also watched videotape of BYU’s defense under Mendenhall.

“The biggest thing is knowing everything,” Moye said.

Nose tackle is considered by many a thankless position, because those who play it often must battle two blockers and rarely post impressive statistics. Moye doesn’t agree.

“Everybody says, `Oh, the nose is just there to plug [the gaps],’ ” Moye said. “No. If you do your job and if you’re dominant, you’ll make plays. You may not make the play 20 yards [down the field], but you’re going to make plays. Everything starts with stopping the run, and anybody can make plays in the run game. It just depends on how dominant you are.”

As a true freshman, Moye appeared in 10 games, made three tackles, including one for loss, and broke up a pass. He played only a couple of snaps at nose tackle when Virginia was in the 3-4. His workload this spring is significantly greater and requires a higher level of conditioning.

“But this is what I want,” Moye said. “I love playing every down. Why would you want it any other way?”

Off the field, Moye said, his transition at UVA has gone well, too.

“This is a great place,” he said. “It’s very welcoming. Academically, I’m striving in the classroom. That’s the biggest reason I came here. There’s nothing more important, really, than the degree.”

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