Sept. 15, 2000
Every spring the entire Cavalier football squad makes a collective decision that serves to set the standards and establish a precedent for the upcoming season. Months before the opening kickoff, a choice must be made which will continue to impact the team throughout the year and eventually play a significant role in determining the squad's ultimate degree of success. In the early part of each spring practice period, the players come together and vote for whom will serve as the team's captains. It's an honor bestowed upon those who not only possess exceptional leadership qualities but also exemplify Virginia football and accurately portray the essence and true characteristics that define each particular team.
For the first time since 1993 and for only the fourth time in head coach George Welsh's tenure at Virginia, the Cavaliers entered the 2000 season with four team captains. An even split, this year's captains feature two offensive players, fullback Patrick Washington and offensive tackle Brad Barnes, as well as two representatives from the defense, linebackers Yubrenal Isabelle and Byron Thweatt. All four seniors welcome the added responsibilities that accompany the position of team captain and, together, they look to help the team attain new found excellence.
"We [as captains] take the approach that this is our team," said Barnes. "We have a lot of older guys who will help out with the leadership, but I think we four captains need to play a huge role in the [overall] leadership to help take this team where we want to go."
Conveniently separated into an even number of representatives from both sides of the ball, the four captains serve to balance the leadership evenly throughout the entire squad. Though each continuously centers his efforts towards his respective area of expertise, the ultimate goal remains doing whatever it takes to benefit the whole team. The captains fully understand that achieving excellence on a personal level represents only the first step towards accomplishing overall success.
"I don't think you should separate it to being just defense and offense, because we're a team out there. I don't play on the offensive side, but my job is to get the ball for the offense, so I'm a part of [that unit] too" said Isabelle. "I try to do things for the whole team, and try to encourage everybody to work hard and play hard."
Though all four captains are starters this season, linebacker Byron Thweatt brings the most experience to the table. The Petersburg, Va., native is only the fifth linebacker in school history to be a four-year starter since freshman eligibility was restored in 1972. With 36 starts to his credit, he possesses more game experience than any other member of the 2000 squad, and he hopes to take what he has learned from the past and instill it in this year's team. During the past three seasons, Thweatt has lined up alongside such Cavalier defensive standouts as Anthony Poindexter and Wali Rainer. They taught him the importance of always maintaining a positive attitude, and now the preseason All-America candidate looks to bring that same mentality to the current Cavalier squad.
"Those guys were real poised. They knew that if something bad happened to keep playing and never let your head down," said Thweatt. "What I learned from them is to keep playing at 100 percent and something good will happen."
Yet, while Thweatt builds on past experiences to help benefit the team, Isabelle takes a fairly different approach towards his role as a team leader. A first-year starter last season as a junior, Isabelle earned honorable mention All-ACC honors, and he enters this season as the Cavaliers' leading returning tackler. After learning a great deal last year, Isabelle now possesses a better understanding of the game and can assess all types of situations, allowing him to provide the proper leadership at the proper time.
"I'm like the weather, it changes. One day I might go out and I will feel like I need to be vocal, or a lot of days I will go out and lead by my actions," said Isabelle. "I analyze things a lot. I look at what the team is going through that day, and I get a feeling for what the team may need. Sometimes you don't want to hear a lot of talk, sometimes your actions don't do it, so you have to be more vocal and show your emotions. I try to help this team with whatever kind of encouragement they need in order to get ready to play."
Unlike Thweatt and Isabelle, feeling comfortable in a leadership role does not come as easily for Brad Barnes. As one of the team's biggest players and hardest workers, the 6-7, 295-pound Barnes remains a rather soft-spoken individual. Though more comfortable with allowing his actions to do all the talking, he understands his role as captain requires him to undertake some additional responsibilities.
"I knew being a fifth-year senior, naturally, I would have to be a leader anyway, so I really haven't approached things too differently," said Barnes, who was voted the team's most improved player last season. "[As a captain], I have tried to be a little more vocal to get guys up, but other than that, I've just continued to work hard every day."
Yet, with all four captains taking a varied approach towards their roles as leaders, none of them would disagree with Washington's assessment of what it truly means to be named a team captain.
"Being recognized by my peers and selected as a captain is a big honor to me," said Washington. "Being recognized by your teammates is one of the highest honors you can get, because they are the ones that see you work hard day in and day out."
Regardless of position, on what side of the ball each lines up prior to the snap, or how they regard their status as a 2000 team captain, all four players now possess a common bond that has brought them all closer. As chosen leaders, they must work together towards preserving Virginia football excellence.
According to Washington, a unique and special relationship already exists among the foursome.
"Byron and I have been roommates the past four years, and we have always lived together. Brad came in with Byron and me as part of our recruiting class, so we have all always been close," said Washington. "Yubrenal came in and it's just like a family. We are real comfortable with each other, and we work together to lead the team."
Now, one game closer to the final time they will take the field in a Cavalier uniform, their appetite for success remains as strong as ever. Having made bowl appearances each of the last two seasons, Isabelle, Barnes, Washington, and Thweatt all agree it is time to take that next step towards a national championship. At the forefront of Virginia's efforts to turn the corner, the four captains see no better time than now to make it happen.
"I feel like I've been here for a while--this is my last season, and I want to go out with a bang," said Thweatt. "I'm going to be motivating everybody to go out and give each game their all. I think we can accomplish a lot of things this year if we keep our minds right."