August 20, 2002
CHARLOTTESVILLE - When the 2001 football season began, Virginia true freshman Alvin Pearman was returning kicks and just hoping to get some playing time at his new position, wide receiver.
By the end of the season, Pearman had led the Cavaliers in rushing and scored the winning touchdowns in wins over Georgia Tech and Penn State. In fact, if Virginia had been able to keep Wake Forest off the scoreboard in the final two minutes at Scott Stadium, Pearman would have had three game-winning scores, none more dramatic than the hook-and-ladder play the Cavaliers used to beat Georgia Tech 39-38.
Clearly, Pearman benefitted from an injury to 2000 All-ACC running back Antwoine Womack, who required surgery after suffering a dislocated ankle in the opening game. However, it quickly became evident that Pearman was a player who would not be kept off the field.
More impressive than Pearman's 371 rushing yards - the lowest total for a UVa rushing leader since 1977 - were his 1,167 all-purpose yards. Pearman touched the ball 65 times in non-rushing situations (25 receptions, 13 kick returns, 27 punt returns), and good things usually resulted for the Cavaliers. After the season, he was named a second-team freshman All-American by The Sporting News.
This year, Pearman should have a more conventional role, surprising given his reputation coming out of Charlotte (N.C.) Country Day. He was billed as a third-down back, similar to the role originally chosen for another smallish UVa back, Tiki Barber, who previously wore Pearman's No. 21.
At 5-10 and 194 pounds, Pearman is slightly taller than Barber - recently named to the ACC's Silver Anniversary football team - and packs a similar punch. He is projected to be an every-down back this year, with prize recruits Michael Johnson and Wali Lundy expected to assume some of Pearman's old return duties.
Pearman got a taste of heavy duty last season. At N.C. State, he rushed 20 times for 50 yards. Against Wake Forest, he carried 20 times for 108 yards. In the next two games, however, he had four rushing attempts combined.
"He'll assume more of a (workhorse) role," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "Alvin will show me what number of carries is best for him. Is it 32 or 16 or what is it? Curtis Martin was not an overly imposing back. I'm going to guess he went about 212, but over a 16-game season, he'd carry it 30 times a game."
Martin, the New York Jets' running back in Groh's one season as head coach and when Groh earlier was an assistant, was used as a measuring stick for Womack last year and probably will be a standard for future Virginia running backs.
"I knew I had to get stronger, and I had to get faster," said Pearman of his offseason training regimen. "My goal is for the coach to be able to play me as much as he likes."