March 22, 2000
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The University of Virginia's spring football practice period starts today (March 22). The Cavaliers are expected to have 12 starters return from last season's squad that finished 7-5 overall and tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 5-3 league mark.
The 1999 season marked the 13th consecutive season the Cavaliers won at least seven games, a current feat accomplished by only Florida State, Michigan and Nebraska.
Offensively, Virginia returns seven starters from last season. However, head coach George Welsh and the offensive staff are faced with having to replace three All-Americans-record-setting tailback Thomas Jones, guard Noel LaMontagne and center John St. Clair.
Headlining the returning starters on offense is senior quarterback Dan Ellis. In his first year as a starter last fall, he finished eighth nationally in passing, the highest finish by a UVa signal caller in seven years. Ellis threw for 2050 yards, ninth in school history, and 20 touchdowns (one off the school mark).
The offensive line has an experienced foundation to help offset the graduation of LaMontagne and St. Clair. Senior tackle Brad Barnes and junior guard Evan Routzahn return on the right side, while junior Josh Lawson returns on the left side. Lawson, a starter at left tackle the last two years, will be moved to guard this spring to clear a spot for Jermese Jones at tackle. Jones, a junior, missed all of last season due to an injury and was redshirted, but is considered an outstanding player by the coaching staff. According to Welsh, junior Jared Woodson and redshirt freshman Jay Green are the leading candidates this spring to replace St. Clair at center.
Ellis will have an experienced group of receivers to throw to next season. Returning at wide receiver are seniors Kevin Coffey and Demetrius Dotson, and sophomores James Johnson and Billy McMullen. Senior Ahmad Hawkins, a starter last season at wide receiver, will be tried at cornerback this spring. McMullen led the team with 483 receiving yards last season, and tied with Coffey for the team lead with 28 receptions. Coffey's seven touchdown catches led the team. Dotson caught 11 passes before getting injured in the sixth game against Duke and missing the remainder of the season. Johnson, who played as a true freshman in 1998, missed all of last season due to injury.
Billy Baber returns at tight end, but is expected to miss the first week of spring practice due to offseason knee surgery. Baber caught 17 passes for 118 yards and four touchdowns last fall.
Sophomore Arlen Harris is the leading candidate to assume the tailback slot opened due to Jones' graduation. Harris rushed for 112 yards in 1999 and is UVa's leading returning rusher. Junior Tyree Foreman also returns at tailback. Senior Patrick Washington, a part-time starter at fullback last season, assumes the starting nod at fullback.
Senior linebackers Byron Thweatt and Yubrenal Isabelle are among five starters returning on defense. Thweatt, an All-American candidate, is coming off a workhorse year when he played a less than full strength throughout the season. He still managed to make 66 tackles, including five behind the line of scrimmage, and earned second-team All-ACC honors. Isabelle led the team in tackling last fall, averaging 8.7 stops per game.
Along the front four, juniors Ljubomir Stamenich and Monsanto Pope return at end. Stamenich's nine tackles for lost yardage and five quarterback sacks lead the returnees. Pope missed six games last season due to an early-season knee injury and moved from tackle to end upon his return. He made 11 tackles in his limited action.
The secondary was particularly hard hit with sophmore safety Jerton Evans the only returning starter this spring. Evans, a freshman All-American as a true freshman in '99, led the team with four interceptions. Senior Tim Spruill is the lone letterman returning at cornerback. He has started 17 games in his career, including six last season. Evans made 44 tackles a year ago, while Spruill had 24.
Junior David Greene will handle both the place-kicking and kick-off duties in 2000. He has been UVa's primary kick-off man the last two years, with Todd Braverman doing the place-kicking for field goals and extra points. Greene kicked two field goals in last season's final regular season game in place of an injured Braverman.
Welsh also changed the responsibilities of several members of his coaching staff. Art Markos, UVa's defensive backfield coach since 1991, has been moved to wide receivers coach, with Bob Price moving from running backs coach to defensive backs coach. Andr? Powell, UVa's wide receivers coach the last three seasons, moves back to running backs coach, a position he coached at UVa in 1996, his first in Charlottesville.
Three other coaches return to the positions they held two years ago. Rick Lantz, UVa's defensive coordinator since 1991, will coach the linebackers, while David Turner, last season's linebackers coach, has been assigned to the defensive tackles. Turner coached the defensive tackles in 1998. Ty Smith, last season's defensive line coach, will coach the defensive ends, a position he coached at UVa in 1998.
Markos and Turner will also serve as co-coordinators of special teams, a new position created by Welsh to oversee four phases of special teams play-punt team, punt return team, kickoff team and kickoff return team.
"We want to improve individuals and spend a lot more time on fundamentals and individual things," Welsh said in assessing what he wanted to accomplish this spring. "I feel pretty good about this team. I think we have enough talent to win."
The Cavaliers' annual spring game will be played on April 14 (Friday) at
6:00 p.m. at Kl?ckner Stadium.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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