May 2, 2006
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Al Groh has made many changes in the culture of Virginia football during his five seasons as head coach. One thing that hasn't changed is the lousy attendance at the spring game.
In the week leading up to this year's April 22 finale, Groh had said that 20,000 would be a nice goal, which made it all the more unimpressive when the crowd was announced at 7,869. That was the official figure, thanks to ushers with clickers who greeted fans at the gate with a "have you been in already?"
On Groh's behalf, it should be noted that the weather was crummy and the forecasts had been even worse. But, there is an uneasiness surrounding the program that wasn't relieved when the Orange team (dressed in white) defeated the Blue team 10-7.
A few supporters may have reboarded the bandwagon when, in the days following the spring game, the Cavaliers picked up commitments from a pair of in-state prospects rated among the top 100 in the country by Rivals.com heading into the spring evaluation period.
They were 6-4, 215-pound J'Courtney Williams, a safety from the Christchurch School, and Peter Lalich, a 6-5, 225-pound quarterback who passed for nearly 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior at West Springfield.
Lalich, rated the No. 2 junior in Virginia by the Roanoke Times, is the highest-rated quarterback to commit to Virginia during Groh's tenure. The biggest question about Williams is his level of play; his school's modest athletic hall of fame includes long-time ACC Sports Journal contributor Bill Brill.
With the addition of Lalich, who had offers from Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma and UCLA, Virginia's quarterback future looks relatively rosy. And, to listen to Groh, quarterback isn't at the top of his list of concerns for 2006. He couldn't have been much more upbeat about projected starter Christian Olsen this spring.
"Chris has really had a pretty positive day every day out there," said Groh, who used Olsen sparingly (23 attempts) in his two seasons as the backup to Marques Hagans. "He's had a really good average with a lot more at-bats than what he has had in the past."
There have been years when Virginia couldn't have an actual game in the spring because of a lack of depth. Somehow, the Cavaliers pulled it off this time, despite the absence of nine players who are in school but missed the game for a combination of academic and injury reasons.
Throw in the three players (linebacker Ahmad Brooks, safety Tony Franklin, defensive end Vince Redd) who were dismissed from the team before the spring and the four players (cornerback Phillip Brown, defensive end Chris Johnson, receiver Ron Morton, lineman D.J. Bell) who were placed on academic suspension last summer, and UVa's scholarship numbers could be approaching alarmingly low levels.
There has been little word on the suspended players, and it is a virtual certainty that Bell and Morton will not return. There has been a buzz that Franklin might be accepted back into the program if he graduates on time and meets other specifications, but there may be enough depth for the secondary to survive without him.
Cornerback Marcus Hamilton, the lone senior on the defense, led the ACC in interceptions last year and is a nominee for the Ronnie Lott Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back. UVa has three other corners who have started at least one game: Chris Gorham, Chris Cook and Mike Brown.
At safety, the likelihood has increased that Nate Lyles will return to action after a scary neck injury that sent him out of Scott Stadium on a body board in the first quarter of a November game with Georgia Tech. Lyles underwent winter surgery, and his rehabilitation has gone well.
Among the players who were not in uniform for the spring game, Lyles was among the most prominent, along with two probable starters on the offensive line, Branden Albert at left guard and Eugene Monroe at left tackle. Monroe suffered a dislocated kneecap early in the spring and underwent surgery. Albert had some academic issues to address.
Virginia already was looking at replacing three offensive linemen with more than a combined 100 career starts -- first-round NFL draft pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Brad Butler and Brian Barthel-mes -- and Monroe and Albert projected as two of the top returnees. Albert started every game last season, and Monroe was rated the No. 1 prospect in the country by SuperPrep before spending a year learning the craft behind Ferguson.
Other injured players included inside linebacker Rashawn Jackson, nose tackle Kevin Crawford and perennial receiver prospect Bud Davis. Jackson, a 6-1, 243-pounder who earned SuperPrep All-American status while playing tailback in high school, is seen as the chief competition to walk-on Jon Copper at inside linebacker.
If Copper starts ("I'm planning on it," Groh said), Virginia in all likelihood will have two walk-ons on its starting defense. The second would be Byron Glaspy, a starter in the Music City Bowl whose performance over the last third of the 2005 season gained him the trust of UVa fans and apparently the coaches, too.
LEITAO LINEUP COMING INTO FOCUS
Virginia basketball coach Dave Leitao has said that the actual makeup of the Cavaliers' 2006-07 roster may not be known until the final month before classes, even though it appears that all eight scholarship players with remaining eligibility are good to go.
Two players who signed letters of intent during the fall, 6-9 Jamil Tucker and 6-6 Will Harris, are certain to join them. So is transfer Ryan Pettinella, who put up pedestrian numbers during two seasons as a backup post player at Pennsylvania but provides a big body (and five more fouls) at 6-9 and 230 pounds.
Virginia signed one other player during the fall, 6-8 Johnnie Lett, and took commitments from two others, 6-5 Solomon Tat and 6-8 Andy Ogide. However, Lett will spend the 2006-07 school year at Hargrave Military Academy, even if he qualifies academically, and Ogide was released from his commitment when he balked at the recommendation that he spend a year in prep school.
As for Tat, whose failure to sign in the fall was surprising after an early commitment, visa issues persist. At mid-April, it was thought that the visa issue was near resolution, but by late April the UVa staff wasn't so sure. Tat, a native Nigerian, has played stateside in Stockbridge, Ga.
Tat is a talent, and the Cavaliers would love to have him. They'd also love to have Scottie Reynolds, a 6-0 McDonald's All-American from Herndon, Va., who signed with Oklahoma in the fall but requested a release from his letter of intent when coach Kelvin Sampson resigned to go to Indiana.
There were signs that Virginia could become involved with Reynolds, an outstanding shooter. UVa already has taken a commitment from Philadelphia point guard Sam Zeglinski for the Class of 2008, but Leitao's philosophy is to use a backcourt in which the point guard and shooting guard are interchangeable.