April 8, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE There has been no letup in the suspensions, expulsions and arrests that have rocked Virginia's football program since the end of the 2007 season, with the latest resulting in the dismissal of one of Al Groh's top recruits.
Virginia announced in a news release minutes before a Groh teleconference on April 2 that freshman linebacker J'Courtney Williams had been kicked off the team. By mid-afternoon, all references to Williams had been removed from the official UVa sports website.
"J'Courtney's time here has unfortunately been marked by issues which fall below the line of what is acceptable to us," Groh said. "Therefore, he will no longer be a member of our program."
Williams, a freshman linebacker who had been redshirted in the fall, already had been arrested for marijuana possession when he was charged with credit card theft and credit card fraud. Williams and another student were alleged to have stolen a wallet from the Virginia Aquatics and Fitness Center.
It was interesting to note that another UVa football player who had been charged with larceny and marijuana possession, cornerback Mike Brown, remained on the UVa roster while awaiting the disposition of his case. Brown is not taking part in team activities and likely would be susceptible to an honors charge, which would result in expulsion according to UVa's single-sanction system. Still, there wasn't the same rush to get rid of him.
Williams had hinted of a possible transfer in the days following the departure of UVa defensive coordinator Mike London to Richmond, where London is the new head coach. Furthermore, the UVa staff had to be aware of incendiary comments that had been posted on Williams' Facebook site.
It couldn't have been easy to cut ties with a player rated the No. 3 linebacker prospect in the country by SuperPrep following his senior year at Christchurch (Va.) School in 2006. However, there were observers of the UVa football program who felt it was necessary to make a statement after an unending winter of discord.
Since the end of the season, players with remaining eligibility who have left the program include All-ACC guard Branden Albert, starting quarterback Jameel Sewell, starting cornerback Chris Cook, starting defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald and reserves Williams, Chris Dalton and Darnell Carter.
Nobody blamed Albert, 23, for placing his name under consideration for the NFL draft, particularly now that he looms as a first-round pick. (ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper recently moved Albert up to fifth overall in his recent mock draft.) As for the four players placed on academic suspension, they could apply for readmission in 2009.
In the case of Cook, he could return in 2009 without losing a year of eligibility, since he never has been redshirted. One player who seems determined to return is Sewell, who has continued to maintain close ties to the program while living in Charlottesville and volunteering at an elementary school, among other worthwhile activities.
The short-term effects of Williams' dismissal are marginal. As a linebacker, he played a position where three UVa returnees Jon Copper, Antonio Appleby and Clint Sintim have a combined 89 career starts. Besides, Williams had undergone surgery on both shoulders and had been limited in what he could do in UVa's winter program.
Long-term, it would appear that Virginia faces some challenges at linebacker, a position Groh oversees as if he were the position coach. The three veterans will depart after the 2008 season, as will outside linebacker Aaron Clark, meaning that UVa will be looking at a completely re-tooled group in 2009.
Virginia's recruiting seems to have undergone a transformation, however, and not a minute too soon. After this year's efforts yielded only one signee ranked among the top 25 prospects in Virginia, the Cavaliers had commitments from four of the top 25 juniors by April 1.
The latest commitment was from quarterback Ross Metheny from Sherando High in Stephens City, located off Interstate 81, just south of the West Virginia state line.
Metheny, a 6-3 left-hander, will join a cast of quarterbacks that in 2009 could include Sewell, 2007 backup and likely 2008 starter Peter Lalich, holdover Marc Verica and February signee Riko Smalls. The Cavaliers continue to recruit Philadelphia quarterback Tom Savage, and they would be willing to add a second QB if he's a potential program-changer.
Groh has given quarterbacks Lalich, Verica and Scott Deke an equal number of repetitions in the spring, and the coach even chastised the media at one point for "anointing" Lalich as the starter. At least Lalich has thrown a pass in a college game 61 of them, in fact but neither of his two "rivals" has that distinction.
Deke has been on the field for two plays in four years, and Verica hasn't played at all. So whether Groh has settled on Lalich or not, he needs to have a second quarterback ready.
Sewell has started the last 22 games for Virginia, but he was knocked out of three or four games last season, requiring relief from Lalich. A less-mobile Lalich would be even more of a target.
MIKALAUSKAS PART OF FUTURE
In basketball, junior post man Lauris Mikalauskas faced five months of rehabilitation after undergoing surgery April 4 for a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 13 games during the middle of the 2007-08 season.
Perhaps the Cavaliers' most emotional player, Mikalauskas gave Virginia a lift upon his return and played a big part in UVa's 6-4 record over the last 10 games. A natural left-hander who has an assortment of inside moves and is equally adept with either hand, Mikalauskas played the entire season with a harness that restricted the movement of his left shoulder.
Mikalauskas was hampered by high-ankle sprains to both ankles during the 2006-07 season and basically has been hurt for two years, but his late-season performance this year had to make him part of the plans for 2008-09, which might not always have been the case.
Mikalauskas was one of four UVa players who missed 10 games or more this season to injury, along with center Tunji Soroye, forward Will Harris and guard Sammy Zeglinski.
Zeglinski, a freshman point guard who (while far less talented overall) is viewed as a possible successor to departing senior star Sean Singletary and went to the same high school as Singletary, almost certainly will receive an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA if he makes a hardship appeal.
Soroye also has an iron-clad case for an appeal if he wants to return for a fifth year in 2008-09. At 6-11 and 252 pounds, he would give the Cavaliers an inside presence, which was sorely needed and ultimately missed this year. However, questions about his physical fitness (back, knees) remain, and UVa currently does not have a scholarship available for him.
Soroye has talked about the possibility of obtaining a student loan, but UVa has scholarship problems beyond that. The Cavaliers still are recruiting three or four high school seniors, even though their current players with remaining eligibility have them at the 13-grant limit. Plus, the right thing to do would be to give walk-on Calvin Baker a grant, after he played close to 800 minutes this past season.
Some movement involving UVa underclassmen is almost certain, and the April-May timeframe typically is when those decisions are made and (eventually) become publicized.