English Emerging as Leader on O-Line
Oct. 11, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — His sister recently finished law school at Boston College, and their father is an attorney in Richmond, so it’s not surprising that University of Virginia offensive tackle Jack English has considered following that career path. For now, though, he’s uncertain.
“I might go find something else,” said English, who earned his bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs from UVA in May.
English wants to continue playing football for as long as possible, he said, “so we’ll see where that goes after the season. Then beyond that, I’m really not entirely sure exactly where I want to go, but probably something in finance or consulting or something like that down the road.”
He smiled. “That’s sort of what I’m thinking today, but that changes week to week for me, honestly.”
English, who graduated from St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, is enrolled in a master’s program in higher education in UVA’s Curry School of Education. A three-year starter at left tackle, he also is the most experienced offensive lineman on a Virginia team that’s surging in its second year under head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
The Cavaliers’ offense struggled last fall, in part because of the line’s inconsistency. Offensive line coach Garett Tujague said before the season that he needed English to play at a higher level this year than in 2016. So far, No. 67 has delivered.
“With Jack, it’s a 180 from where he was this time last year, just in the way he carries himself, his leadership, his on-the-field performance,” Tujague said Tuesday in his McCue Center office.
“It would have been catastrophic if he hadn’t used last year to get himself better for this year, and I think he’s done that. It’s night and day. It’s a totally different player: totally more bought-in, more in-line with the philosophy of the entire program. We ask our guys to do a lot. So I think that took some getting used to for Jack.”
The season did not start auspiciously for English, who had to sit out the Wahoos’ opener for a violation of team rules. Redshirt freshman Dillon Reinkensmeyer started in English’s place against William & Mary at Scott Stadium.
“From my position, it was sort of about doing what I could to help the guys in the time leading up to the game, and then being there to support them however I could,” English said. “But obviously, with this being my last year, missing that [game] was really tough, not being with the team that day, having to watch from the stands. But we got the win, so that felt pretty great.”
The 6-5, 305-pound English returned for the Cavaliers’ second game, a 34-17 loss to Indiana. Since that defeat, Virginia (4-1 overall, 1-0 ACC) has won three straight, with English in a leading role on a much-improved offensive line.
“He has matured and shown great leadership,” Tujague said. “You only get 12 of these guaranteed a year, and to have one taken away from you because of your actions is a terrible thing. But I think it helped him realize how precious this team and this situation is to him.”
English said: “I think I learned a lot about myself and how much all this means to me, as well as learning ways I can be a better teammate. That experience of helping [fellow offensive linemen] before the first game, and helping Dillon specifically, sort of preparing him for what he was going to do, I think that gave me an opportunity to see how much you can affect other people’s preparation by being on top of things yourself and communicating that.”
Reinkensmeyer is now at center on a line whose other starters are English, left guard John Montelus, right guard Jake Fieler and right tackle Brandon Pertile. After an ineffective first half Saturday at Scott Stadium, the group asserted itself against Duke and helped the `Hoos record a 28-21 victory in their ACC opener.
“It was just more effort,” Montelus said of the line’s improvement. “We weren’t there in the beginning.”
Nobody up front appreciates English’s contributions more than Montelus, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame who lines up next to him.
“He’s a veteran guy who’s played a lot of football,” Montelus said. “He’s good at communicating with me, and he sees a lot of blitzes out of nowhere, like last-minute stuff. He’s a really good football player, so that’s a huge impact for us.”
At his weekly press conference Monday at John Paul Jones Arena, Mendenhall was asked about English’s response to the one-game suspension.
“I think any time there’s accountability for behavior, there’s all different kinds of reactions, and it run an entire spectrum,” Mendenhall said. “What I like to do, and what I believe is appropriate, is provide a clear pathway back. It’s usually not just time, it’s a number of check marks and tasks and things that have to be completed to qualify to rejoin the team.
“But that’s just the beginning. What I like at that point is to create new habits. So then on a weekly basis, there are benchmarks that have to be met … So it doesn’t surprise me how Jack is playing — and he’s playing well — because he’s doing the things he’s supposed to do to play.”
English usually grades out as one of the Cavaliers’ top offensive linemen, Tujague said, “and I’m really hard on him. I expect more from him than I would, say, a younger player. I critique his foot and hand placement and everything, but he’s done a really good job.”
Duke’s defense was probably the best Virginia has faced this season, Tujague said, but he knows stiffer challenges await English.
“So everything we do, every day we do it, it’s about being able to handle the very best in the country, so that you can have your name up there with one of the very best tackles in the country,” Tujague said.
Among other responsibilities, English is charged with protecting quarterback Kurt Benkert’s blind side.
The left tackle “needs to be tough,” Tujague said. “He needs to be nasty. He needs to be extremely knowledgeable of our offense, our scheme, and more so than anything, he has to show up [every game]. He’s got to have a leadership role, but people need to look at his film and go, `OK, so that’s how you do this.’ “
No. 2 on Virginia’s depth chart at left tackle is Ryan Nelson, a true freshman who has not played this season.
“I meet with my first-years every week and I ask them, `What did you learn from the guy in front of you while watching the game?’ ” Tujague said. “There’s a lot of knowledge being passed down from Jack to the younger players. Ryan’s been very fortunate [to have English as a mentor].”
At 4-1, the Cavaliers are off to their best start since 2007, when they won seven of their first eight games and went on to finish 9-4. Of the recruiting class that enrolled at UVA in 2013, eight players remain on the roster: English, running back Daniel Hamm, wide receiver Andre Levrone, offensive lineman Jack McDonald, linebackers Micah Kiser and Malcolm Cook, and defensive backs Kirk Garner and Tim Harris.
That class has yet to experience a winning season at UVA, and “after spending so much time and obviously being on the wrong end of things for our whole time here, having some success feels really good for everyone,” English said.
However, as Kiser noted Saturday, the `Hoos were 4-2 after six games in 2015. They finished 5-7 that season. It’s important, then, for the players to stay on an even keel, English said, “but you want to enjoy it at the same time.”
Next up for UVA is a 3:30 p.m. date Saturday with North Carolina (1-5, 0-3) at Kenan Stadium. The Cavaliers won’t lack motivation in this one, and not only because a victory would move them closer to their first bowl appearance since 2011.
In a series that dates to 1892, Virginia hasn’t defeated UNC since 2009. English was in the ninth grade at St. Christopher’s that fall.
“It’s been a long time,” he said.