Chris Gorham came up with several big plays to help secure Virginia’s win over UConn
Saturday afternoon against the Connecticut Huskies didn’t start off well for Chris Gorham . In his inaugural start at wide receiver the first two passes thrown to him were incomplete; sort of. The second pass fell harmlessly to the ground; the first one however did not.
Having moved the Cavaliers to the UConn 47-yard line, Jameel Sewell and the Hoos faced a third-and-eight on their opening drive of the game. Sewell made a nice play-fake to Andrew Pearman , took a five-step drop into a well-protected pocket and rifled a textbook pass 21 yards down the seam to Gorham. The ball bounced off the receiver’s chest and landed in the arms of Husky safety Dahna Deleston, who returned the interception 20 yards.
But Gorham has learned how to handle the ups-and-downs of life on the gridiron.
The trombone playing native of Pottstown, Pa came to Virginia ranked among the top cornerbacks in the nation by the recruiting services. As a freshman he saw action in four games. In 2005 he entered the season as the starter but was replaced after four games by Chris Cook and Mike Brown. Supplanted by Cook, Gorham appeared in the first six games last year but never saw action again following the East Carolina game.
A lot of players would simply go off to their little corner of the locker room and pout and have a pity party about their misfortune.
With returning corners Vic Hall, Mike Brown and Chris Cook and the emerging Mike Parker, the likelihood of Gorham getting repetitions at corner as a senior were minimal. But the Virginia coaching staff saw a potential spot for Gorham on the offense, where the depth at wide receiver was thin. When the coaches approached him in the spring about moving to wide receiver he jumped at the opportunity to help the team.
In his first night as a starter Gorham led the team in catches (3) and yardage (76) and produced Virginia longest reception of the season (35 yards). That type of performance was exactly what Gorham’s teammates had been looking for.
“We’ve wanted him to step up for a while now,” Sewell said. “It’s been a hard transition over from a defensive back and to come over and play the receiver spot and fill a couple of guys’ shoes and that’s what he’s been doing. It was awesome to see him being able to make those plays for us, and we put more confidence in him, and him making those plays gave the team a lot more confidence.”
Entering the game Gorham had caught just two passes in five games. According to Groh, it’s taken some time to adapt to his new position.
“It took him a little time to get comfortable playing over there. He wasn’t a wide receiver in high school and he’s been a corner here for three years, so it took a little while for him to [get] comfortable playing a different kind of game than he has been on the corner,” explained Groh. “But he’s been very diligent about it and he kind of represents what a lot of guys talk about during the week about a team having a next man up attitude. Maurice [Covington] went down and he was the next man up.”
That coaching move and Gorham’s diligence and willingness to care more for the name on the front of the jersey than the name on the back paid dividends Saturday night.
“He was the starter going into the game and that obviously brought the ball to him more,” said Groh.
Gorham’s first reception came on an uneventful second-and-10 on the Cavaliers’ first scoring drive. Gorham ran a simple out route and made the grab along the sideline for an 11-yard gain. The next two plays were somewhat more significant.
With Virginia leading 7-6 and having just entered Husky territory on an 18-yard Sewell scramble, Mike Groh sent in a play the Hoos had been contemplating all week. All-purpose player Vic Hall entered the game and lined up left of Sewell at tailback. Hall took a handoff from Sewell, and the former high school quarterback lofted a 30-yard pass that seemed to hang in the air for an eternity into the waiting arms of a wide open Gorham.
“Vic’s a great athlete,” said Gorham. “He judged where the defender was at the time and he threw a great ball to me and I have no complaints. I’m just thankful he was able to throw the pass that he did.”
Gorham’s final catch of the evening may have been the most important. His Cavaliers behind 16-14 with under eight minutes to play, Gorham split wide and ran a deep corner route, finding an opening in the UConn secondary where Sewell stuck again. The 30-yard completion put the Cavaliers close to Chris Gould field goal range at the Husky 36-yard line. The rest, as is often said, is history.
While some onlookers may have been surprised at the big plays Gorham produced Saturday night, guard Ian-Yates Cunningham was not among them.
“He took the role of being a wide receiver and he didn’t stop moving. That’s just how Chris is,” Cunningham affirmed. “He knows what to do, he’s a professional and comes with a professional approach, and it didn’t surprise any one of us when he made plays like that today. He’s a 4th year senior, and that’s what seniors are supposed to do. They’re supposed to step up in big time situations.”
Coach Groh, though pleased with the victory, seemed equally pleased with the performance and recognition his senior wide receiver garned Saturday.
“That was a real good play he made [on the pass from Hall]. He made a real good play on the corner route that got us down the field and put us in advantageous position. It was nice to see for him, a senior player like that to have a moment. He hasn’t had a lot of those ‘slap-on-the-back’ moments but that’s the team. Different guys stepping up at different times and appreciating and respecting the guys that do.”
For the deeply religious Gorham, his focus was not with personal accolades or selfish glory. Like many members of this Cavalier squad his focus was on his team and its collective success.
“I just thank God for giving me the strength and abilities to do anything I’m able to do, whatever I can do to help the team win. That’s what it all boils down too. It’s not about my own stats or what I do as an individual each week. We want to win collectively as a team.”
~ Greg Waters for TheSabre.com.
In-Focus Video Highlights
WCAV (Channel 19 Charlottesville) provides in-focus video from Virginia’s 17-16 win over Connecticut. Check out the IN FOCUS video clip on Chris Gorham ‘s break out game.
You will need to click the link below and then choose the proper link from the VIDEO page. In Focus archives are available on the same page, just change to the SABRE IN FOCUS tab.
In-focus photos provided by Michael Ingalls. Click each thumbnail to open larger image. Images copyright © TheSabre.com.
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