March 29, 2001
Nearly three months ago, head coach Al Groh and his staff officially took the reigns of the Cavalier football program, and ever since then, they have been working hard to begin steering the team towards a new era of success. Following a rigorous preseason workout session, the Cavaliers will take the field for the first time under their new headman as tomorrow marks the first day of the spring practice period.
"Well, it is time to find out if the coach can do anything but talk. Obviously, we are looking forward to going on the field with the players," said Groh. "That is what we came here for, to coach the team and work with the players, so we finally get the opportunity to do that Friday afternoon. I know I speak for all the coaches to say that we are very anxious to do that."
With both the players and the coaches still continuing to become accustomed to one another, spring practice should provide a perfect opportunity for both parties to get a good feel for what to expect in practice as well as certain game situations. According to Groh, the next 15 days of practice will allow his staff to clearly outline their expectations for the members of this year's squad.
"Probably the most important thing, before we get into [the playing] system, is to form a good foundation with the players [by increasing] their understanding of the personality, the philosophies, the habits, and the style of this coaching staff," said Groh. "Change has occurred and as a result of that change, there is a new leadership structure in place, and that just brings differences. I want to make sure staff-wise that we make very explicit and very clear to the players exactly what is important to us and how we operate."
Yet, while the coaching staff hopes to use the spring practice period to delineate what they expect from their players and expose their football ideologies, do not think they will overlook how the players react in certain practice and game situations. No amount of time spent in the weightroom, running sprints, or performing drills can accurately depict a player's ability to perform on the field. In fact, Groh views spring practice as the coaching staff's first real opportunity to learn to what degree each squad member displays the traits that characterize a truly successful football player.
"We want to learn those things about the players that only football brings out. We could have the offseason program for two-and-a-half years, but getting into some competitive situations is where we find out the heart, the hunger, the field savvy and those [type of] things that each particular player possesses."
Entering spring practice, every player comes in with a clean slate and a new chance at increasing their playing time or securing a starting position. Arlen Harris, who began last season as Virginia's starting running back, represents the only Cavalier expected to miss the 2001 spring practice session. Harris will miss up-coming work-out period to concentrate on his classwork. For everyone else, the 15 days of practice provide the first chance to state their cases to the coaches and display their ability to perform within the new system.
"What has gone on has gone on, that is in the past. Everybody has a new opportunity, and for some of the players, some things system wise might enhance the application of skills that they have. In some cases, the system that goes into place might make it more difficult for a player's skills to be prominent in the operation," said Groh. "We will just have to see how that works out in competitive situations, and I think I am going to let the up-coming practices determine that."
During the 2001 football season, a lot will be said around water coolers throughout the Commonwealth regarding head coach Al Groh and the new Cavalier football regime. In the end, Groh remains confident the only thing that truly matters is what happens on the playing field. Over the next 15 days of practice leading up to the spring football game on April 21, Groh and his staff will have their chance to see how the players perform in practice and game-type situations. Now it is time to find out what the new Virginia "tribe" is all about and to see just who has come to play.
"The only thing that determines the games is what happens between the lines. There is no other story line that determines the outcome of the game," said Groh. "There are a lot of other things people like to write about, there are a lot of other things people like to read, but the players and the team are the only things that determine who wins or who loses."