July 26, 2004 CHARLOTTESVILLE Preseason football workouts can't come soon enough for Virginia coach Al Groh, who no doubt has grown weary of seeing his players' names end up on police blotters. The latest was recruit Ahmad Bradshaw, an All-Group 2A running back and 2002 state player of the year in his classification. Bradshaw was arrested in the early morning hours of July 17 on charges of underage possession of alcohol and obstruction of justice.
Bradshaw will not play for the Cavaliers this fall, at least partly because of off-the-field issues dating back to his days at in-state Graham High, but the most critical loss for the 2004 Virginia football team involved wide receiver Ottowa Anderson.
Days after Anderson was arrested for assault and battery, Groh announced that Anderson was not enrolled in summer school, was not training with the team and was not part of the Cavaliers' plans for the upcoming season.
It did not became apparent until later that Anderson's unavailability had little or nothing to do with his arrest. In all likelihood, Anderson would have been academically ineligible, and the arrest only compounded his problems.
The arrest, by itself, was not too appalling. Police said it was the fifth time they had been notified of disturbances involving Anderson and his girlfriend, 21-year-old Jessica Turner. On this occasion, Anderson was using Turner's computer without her permission, she threatened him with a knife, and he pushed her. It was a typical he-said, she-said deal, and the police decided to arrest both Anderson, 22, and Turner. Both were slapped with restraining orders, with the next hearing in juvenile and domestic relations court now set for Sept. 27.
By then, Virginia will be four games into a season with a receiving corps that includes only one proven player, fifth-year senior Michael McGrew. Even he suffered a broken leg last year in the preseason, but there was a silver lining. He had never been redshirted; otherwise, he would have been gone by now, too.
McGrew's chances of coming back from a broken leg might be better than Anderson's chances of regaining his eligibility, although Anderson, too, was never redshirted and theoretically could return in 2005. Given the relative absence of experienced receivers in the UVa program, Groh probably would like to have him back.
According to most projections, McGrew and Anderson would have been the starting wide receivers for a Virginia team that frequently uses three or four wideouts. In the absence of Anderson, the Cavaliers do not have a returning receiver who had more than eight receptions last year. Marques Hagans had 28 receptions in 2003 as primarily a third-down receiver, but he is the Cavaliers' likely starting quarterback this fall.
It might not have bothered Groh if contenders Chris Olsen, Anthony Martinez or Kevin McCabe had outperformed Hagans in the spring, which would have given Virginia the option of returning Hagans to wide receiver, but that didn't happen. Hagans clearly was the best of the quarterbacks in the spring, although he almost definitely will offer a significant dropoff from 2003 starter Matt Schaub.
Groh steadfastly has resisted the temptation to move running back Alvin Pearman to wide receiver, where he played briefly as a freshman, but Pearman's receiving skills and productivity may prove difficult to overlook. He had 63 receptions last year second on the team behind tight end and roommate Heath Miller and set a school record with 16 catches against Florida State.
Young Receivers Must Be Ready
Receptions aren't the only requisite Groh has for his wide receivers. Anderson was a terrific blocker on the corner the best blocker among the UVa wide receivers and a productive special teams player. He practiced hard, played with fire and was a leader in the locker room. For him not to take care of academic matters was out of character; in fact, he was known to do well in courses he liked, only to blow off courses he didn't like, which drove his deans crazy.
Neither Anderson nor McGrew is a breakaway threat. Like Anderson, who had 33 receptions last year and has 62 in his career, McGrew is a possession receiver and maybe the best route runner on the team. He has 60 career receptions, including 58 in a two-year (2001-02) span.
There is greater speed in a group of five young wide receivers who likely will never have a better opportunity than they have now. They include redshirt sophomore Ron Morton, sophomores Deyon Williams and Fontel Mines, and redshirt freshmen Emmanuel Byers and Shannon Lane. Lane was moved from cornerback after the spring.
UVa's greatest recruiting disappointment last year was its inability to land one of several marquee wide receivers on its list. But Williams (6-3, 188) was a well-regarded signee out of Upper Marlboro, Md., and showed flashes of potential last year, when he had eight receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown, against Western Michigan. He and Morton are considered speedsters, while Mines, the only other player who had a catch last year, has the best size (6-4, 222).
Their time to shine will start in early August, when Groh hopes he can begin to concentrate on football. Spring season had barely ended when reports surfaced that Jamaine Winborne, a starter in the secondary for the past three seasons, had been wounded in a shooting incident outside a Charlottesville apartment.
Winborne, grazed by a bullet that had ricocheted off the pavement, was released from the hospital after one day and has been in the New York Giants camp. He was not arrested, but three teammates were Hagans, defensive back Kenneth Tynes and walk-on Buddy Lee.
Those three subsequently were found not guilty, although Tynes had not played in two seasons at UVa and already had cleared out his locker by the end of spring ball. Officially, there were no football sanctions against Hagans, but he probably heard from Groh about the utter senselessness of a starting quarterback or any other football player, for that matter haggling or grappling with policemen.
The Bradshaw incident raised other issues. He had been on campus since June 8 as part of UVa's summer transition program, but the fact that he was out at 1:50 a.m. raised questions about the supervision that the players, just a little over a month out of high school, were getting in Charlottesville. Also, if Bradshaw did have a checkered past, as some follow-up reports are indicating, why weren't the Cavaliers more vigilant in recruiting him?
In this case, there was a partial explanation. When Bradshaw committed to the Cavaliers, he was being recruited by Kevin Ross. However, Ross left the program after the Continental Tire Bowl and joined his father Bobby's new staff at Army. Perhaps as a result, there were enough gaps in Bradshaw's recruiting that he was the lone committed UVa player who did not sign on signing day.