April 2, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- An 11th-hour addition to the recruiting class, he was among the least heralded of the football players who signed with the University of Virginia in February 2013. But recruiting rankings mean little, if anything, once the pads go on, and Eric Tetlow heads UVa's depth chart at center this spring.
For a young man who once expected to spend his college years at another ACC school, this is heady stuff.
"It's kind of hard to wrap my head around it still, but I'm excited," said Tetlow, a 6-6, 310-pound rising sophomore. "I'm excited for the opportunity, and I'm just taking it one step at a time."
In November 2012, near the end of his senior season at Mills Godwin High School in the Richmond area, Tetlow committed to Wake Forest. After expressing interest in him in the summer of 2012, UVa had stopped short of offering Tetlow a scholarship, and so he decided to become a Demon Deacon. But then a scholarship for an offensive lineman came open at Virginia, and the coaching staff offered it to Tetlow.
Initially, he turned the Cavaliers down. But as signing day approached, Tetlow recalled last week, he started re-evaluating his decision and thinking about "whether Wake would be the right fit for me. I had some questions, and I started thinking more and more about Virginia and how close it is and everything about it."
On the eve of signing day in 2013, Tetlow decommitted from Wake and chose UVa. And now, 14 months later, he's the leading candidate to replace Luke Bowanko as the Cavaliers' starting center.
"He's doing a really good job," offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim said after a recent practice. "He's got a great, accurate snap. He's a very smart, intelligent player. He's doing a good job making the calls. He's just got to learn the different flow and movements in there."
Tetlow has limited experience at center. Until the second half of his senior year at Godwin, he primarily played tackle and guard. When practice began at Virginia last summer, Tetlow was at center, but then he sprained the PCL in his right knee early in training camp. The Wahoos were short-handed at offensive guard, so Tetlow was shifted there in September when he resumed practicing.
One of 12 true freshmen to play for UVa last season, Tetlow appeared in five games, all at guard. But Wachenheim told him to keep working on his snapping and to know the center's responsibility on every play, in case an emergency arose. And when the players returned to the University in January, Tetlow learned he'd be competing for the starting job at center, along with Jackson Matteo and, if necessary, Ross Burbank, whom Wachenheim prefers at guard.
After playing offensive guard in 2010 and '11, Bowanko handled the center's duties for most of the '12 and '13 seasons. He enjoyed the experience, however challenging the transition might have been at first.
At center, Bowanko said last week, the "hardest thing is just building the trust with the other four line guys that you can make the calls and they can count on you. Eric's got all the intangibles. He's personable and he's smart. So long as he gets that trust, he'll be OK."
Spring practice has gone "pretty well," said Tetlow, who plans to major in economics and minor in leadership. "It's a long process of just trying to get all the small things right, but that's the best part about spring: You can make a mistake and not have to worry about it. So it's just trying to get footwork and small technique things down."
Mistakes are inevitable with young players, and their resilience can be tested.
"Last year it was definitely hard during practice," Tetlow said, "just trying to get a grasp of playing against a college defense and understanding a college offense. But I feel a lot more confident this spring that I know what my assignments are, I know what to do. I know the small things that I did wrong. I can put it past me and move on to the next play. I have the confidence to go out there and know there is another play."
Born and raised in the Richmond area, Tetlow has athletic bloodlines. His mother, an Ohio native, ran track and played softball in high school. His father, who was born in Australia, was a world-class swimmer who competed in that sport at Harvard.
Growing up, Tetlow wrestled and played baseball, football and basketball. But he never swam competitively. "My dad wasn't too disappointed," he said with a smile, "because sitting through swim meets would probably not have been very fun."
His height, Tetlow said, comes his mother's family. "She's 5-11. My grandfather on that side was 6-5. My dad's only 5-10."
In an otherwise disappointing season for the Cavaliers, who finished 2-10, the offensive line helped tailback Kevin Parks rush for more than 1,000 yards. UVa lost two starters from that line -- Bowanko and Morgan Moses -- and Wachenheim doesn't have a full complement of players this spring.
Recovering from injuries are Jay Whitmire, Sadiq Olanrewaju, Sean Karl, John Pond and George Adeosun. Whitmire started 12 games last season -- four at right tackle, eight at right guard -- and Olanrewaju is expected to compete for a starting job at tackle this summer.
Not until training camp, then, is the line likely to resemble the one that will start in the Aug. 30 opener against UCLA at Scott Stadium.
"It's hard when you're missing pieces," Tetlow said.
Even so, Wachenheim said, "I think every team in the country has that problem in spring ball, because you've got a few guys hurt, you don't have your recruiting class here yet. But the guys have done a great job."
"I really like the effort and energy of this group," Wachenheim said. "They've come out with some enthusiasm. They're encouraging their teammates, and their effort's been outstanding. We make a few mistakes, but the kids are learning from them and they're getting better every practice. There's a lot of fun energy with this group."
EQUIPMENT SALE: Game-worn UVa football jerseys and helmets will be on sale before the April 12 spring game at Scott Stadium. Also available will be cheer uniforms and pom poms.
The equipment can be purchased behind the scoreboard at the open end of Scott Stadium, beginning at 11 a.m., when the gates open. The spring game will start at 1 p.m.
Helmets are $150 each, game jerseys $50 and Orange Crush practice jerseys each. Cheer uniforms are $35 and pom poms $10.
Cash and credit cards will be accepted, but no checks.
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