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By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – At Heinz Field, UVA offensive tackle Bobby Haskins’ cheering section in Pittsburgh last weekend included his father, Bob, a former defensive end at Columbia University.
In 14 games as a Cavalier, the younger Haskins has already celebrated more victories – nine – than his father did during his career at the Ivy League school.
“A lot of guys ended up quitting the team [at Columbia],” Bobby Haskins said, “but that made the relationships my dad made with the guys that ended up staying all four years that much stronger, because they were the only guys that didn’t quit. They stuck it out and finished it.”
At UVA, the mood is more upbeat. Optimism for football continues to grow, in part because of young players such as Haskins.
“Bobby is aggressive and he’s tough and he’s strong,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He has a really good mindset to play in the offensive front, in terms of fundamentals, position mastery and just experience that’s being built along the way.”
A 6-7, 287-pound sophomore, Haskins has all the physical tools coaches look for in an offensive tackle. “He’s picture perfect,” said Garett Tujague, the Cavaliers’ offensive line coach.
For a tackle, Tujague added, “I’d say the three most important things are: Is he nasty, does he have the length, and is he strong? Bobby’s been able to demonstrate all three of those through his progress in this program.”
Haskins, who played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season, didn’t start in this year’s opener, but he was in at left tackle for all three of the Wahoos’ touchdowns in their 30-14 victory over Pitt: quarterback Bryce Perkins’ 2-yard pass to running back Chris Sharp, Perkins’ 13-yard pass to wide receiver Hasise Dubois, and running back Wayne Taulapapa’s 10-yard carry.
“It was a blast,” said Haskins, who’s from Fairfield, Connecticut. “It was honestly one of the funnest times, if not the funnest time, of my life.
“The first half I was really nervous, but [offensive coordinator Robert] Anae and Coach Tujague did an awesome job of talking to us at halftime and letting us know the corrections we needed to make and the game plan for the second half. I think I settled down more and really leaned on Ryan Nelson, who was right next to me, and the rest of the O-line to kind of gut it out and finish.”
Nelson, a redshirt sophomore who started every game at left tackle last season, roomed with Haskins during training camp last month.
“Bobby is a kid who’s always in my ear asking me questions: ‘How can I do this? How can I better myself? What technique do you use on different things?’ ” Nelson said. “And he’s listened, and guys who listen like that always want to get better, and you can see them physically getting better on the field, and Bobby’s a perfect example of that.”
Like Sharp, Haskins came to UVA after starring for head coach Todd Smith at the Hun School in Princeton, N.J. But Sharp was a four-year letterman there. Haskins played one season at Hun after graduating from Fairfield Prep.
An excellent student, Haskins went the postgraduate route, he said, to “open recruiting for another year and give myself time to mature and just try to get bigger and stronger and get more attention [from colleges].”
Even before he enrolled at Hun, Haskins attracted the interest of UVA’s coaches. They invited him to a camp in Charlottesville, after which he received a scholarship offer. Haskins committed in June 2017.
“He wanted to get a great education and great football,” Smith said, “and that’s why he chose Virginia.”
A tight end at Fairfield Prep, which is located on the campus of Fairfield University, Haskins moved to offensive tackle at Hun.
“He checked off all the boxes at tackle,” Smith said. “He was a basketball player in high school” – which helped Haskins’ footwork – “and he had an understanding of [football]. He picked up schemes and was athletic enough to apply them.
“It was great to have him. He was only with us for a semester, but it feels like he was with us for an eternity.”
Not surprisingly, Haskins and Sharp, who’s competing as a graduate student this season, share a strong bond. It helps that their lockers at the McCue Center are next to each other.
“Chris and I talk after every practice,” Haskins said. “We’re always kind of just around each other, so naturally Hun School comes up every once in a while. He’s just a tremendously hard worker. Coach Smith told me was that way at Hun, and obviously he’s shown that here at Virginia.”
Haskins was one of four football players to enroll at UVA in January 2018, along with classmates Noah Taylor and Brennan Armstrong and junior-college transfer Perkins. He expected to spend a full academic year at Hun, Haskins said, but “Coach Mendenhall and Coach Tujague called me and said that they were willing to let me come early, which was awesome. It was a really great opportunity.”
He weighed about 255 pounds when he arrived on Grounds. He played at about 275 last season and is now pushing 290.
“I’m getting there,” Haskins said.
Adding good weight is not necessarily difficult, he said, but it “requires discipline. Our strength coaches are awesome, and [UVA director of sports nutrition] Randy Bird is awesome about letting us know what we should eat and how many times a day we should eat. We also keep a food log, so I can hold myself accountable with what I’m eating to make sure that I’m gaining at the right pace and staying on track.”
Haskins, who lives with Armstrong, the Cavaliers’ No. 2 quarterback, is wearing jersey No. 70 for the second straight year.
“Being chosen to select a number was really the honor, and the number itself doesn’t really hold much significance,” Haskins said. “But I like the way it looks. It just kind of felt right when I was picking one. It stuck out to me. I had a gut feeling.”
Haskins has three sisters, one of whom is a freshman at Clemson, “so it’s a little bit of a rivalry,” he said, smiling. At UVA, he plans to major in foreign affairs.
“Being at a university that was started by a Founding Father and certainly has a political and historical background to it, I think it’d be awesome to go into that field and explore the classes there,” Haskins said.
His football career continues Friday night. In a game that will air on the new ACC Network, Virginia meets William & Mary, also 1-0, at Scott Stadium at 8 o’clock. Against Pitt, UVA’s offensive line gave up three sacks, and his group has “to do a way better job of keeping our quarterback clean,” Tujague said.
“Absolutely,” Haskins said. “That’s got to be our main focus. That’s got to be mission critical, just protecting Bryce and giving him peace of mind when he’s back there that we’ll hold the protection and keep him safe.”
Redshirt sophomore Ryan Swoboda and redshirt junior Dillon Reinkensmeyer started the opener at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, but Tujague mixed and matched lineup throughout the game. That may well continue.
“To say going into game one or after game one everything is fixed and set is not the way I like to do business,” Mendenhall said. “I like jobs to be open and competed for on a weekly basis, sometimes on a play-by-play basis. That’s where the offensive front is right now.”