Senior Wisdom

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If there was any doubt about who was going to lead the Virginia football team this year, the seniors put that to rest on the night of July 30. Following the first full-squad meeting of the preseason at the McCue Center, several of the older players addressed the freshmen when the coaches left the room.

Their message was clear: This is our team, not yours. You have to fit in, not us. We lead, you follow. Understood? Welcome aboard.

“I think the freshmen were pumped up a little bit too much when they got here,” senior safety Jerton Evans said the next day. “We had to humble them, and we did.”

In one sense, the assertion of authority was no big deal. Seniors are supposed to be the leaders, right? But with this team, there were reasons to wonder whether that would be the case.

For one thing, the senior class is almost absurdly small, with just eight players who began the season on scholarship. (Two others, Heath Boucek and Brad Durbin, later received grants-in-aid.) Vastly outnumbered by the 27 true freshmen, the seniors had to wonder whether the rookies would give them the respect they felt they deserved.

After all, the freshmen came to UVa hearing about how great they were, how they would play a lot right away, how they would save the program. They might have expected to take over leadership roles as well. For all those reasons, the seniors felt they needed to take control by laying down the law.

“It went really well,” senior safety Shernard Newby said after the meeting. “I think freshmen everywhere in the country come in with a little cockiness about them. These guys definitely have talent. But they have to realize we’re veterans and they can learn something from us. This is not the time for individuals to show what they can do. This is a team sport. We said, ‘We want y’all to be part of this team, but work within the system.’”

Now, nearly four months later, it’s fair to say that the first team meeting helped set the tone for what has been a surprisingly successful season. Picked to finish eighth in the ACC, the Cavaliers are 7-4 – most observers predicted no more than four wins – and a near-lock for a bowl bid. They can finish second in the conference by beating No. 18 Maryland in the seniors’ final home game Saturday.

While the freshmen (and sophomores and juniors) have played major roles, the seniors can take pride in leading the way, on and off the field. Billy McMullen is the team’s top receiver, while Angelo Crowell, Merrill Robertson and Evans are the top three tacklers. Newby leads the team with three interceptions. Alex Seals