O-Line has Oodles of Experience, Too Much Youth?

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Elton Brown is one of two seniors on the offensive line.

Football games are won and lost in the trenches. It’s been said so often that it’s become a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth in that statement. It’s no surprise that three of the last four national champions started at least three seniors on the offensive line.

So what does that mean for Virginia? Hard to say.

This season the Cavaliers return seven offensive linemen who have combined for 112 starts, yet they still possess one of the youngest lines in the ACC in terms of age and time in the program. Of the seven returning linemen with starting experience, only two are seniors (right guard Elton Brown and center Zac Yarbrough), while three are juniors (right tackle Brad Butler, left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Brian Barthelmes) and two are sophomores (left guard Ian-Yates Cunningham and Ron Darden).

Remarkably, all seven saw action as freshmen, with four playing as true freshmen.

“If you look at a baseline where Brad, Brick and Bart started from in 2002, most kids in top-notch, quality programs don’t get on the field until their third year,” said offensive line coach Ron Prince. “These kids came out as true freshmen and played and they tried to do everything we asked them to do. They’re playing as 17-, 18-year-olds against 22-, 23-year-olds.”

Several of them still aren’t old enough to drink. Ferguson, a two-year starter, didn’t turn 20 until shortly before the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl. Butler won’t turn 21 until September. Cunningham just turned 19 in early May.

“As much as a lot of us have starts, we all played as freshmen and we still need a lot of work in the offseason,” Butler said. “A lot of us have put on weight and we are more experienced but there’s still a lot of things we need to improve on to get better.”