Oct. 18, 2000
A BALANCING ACT
By Chas Jordan
Virginia tights ends coach and recruiting coordinator Danny Wilmer may have more in common with the players he coaches than one may initially think. Sure, it has been nearly 30 years since Wilmer last suited up for a football game, but balancing the duel responsibilities of coach and recruiter often requires the same discipline that Virginia's tight ends must utilize in order to maintain their role as both blockers and pass receivers. In each case, a desire exists to place more emphasis on one responsibility over the other. For coach Wilmer, that desire would be for more time to spend towards coaching and interacting with Virginia's current players. As for the Cavalier tight ends, they would love more time in the spotlight as pass receivers.
Luckily, coach Wilmer understands he benefits the Virginia program most when he tackles both his recruiting and coaching responsibilities with an equal amount of energy and fervor. It is this control he hopes to instill in UVa's tight ends as they look to retain a proper perspective towards their role on the field.
"I would like to spend more time just on football during the week and with our kids here, but I have also got the freshmen coming in that I have to take care of," said Wilmer. "I make the analogy it is like having a big box of marbles and you want to keep them all, but they keep falling out. [Balancing the two positions] is hard, but it is not impossible."
Fortunately for starting tight end Billy Baber and back-up Chris Luzar, their wish to become more involved in the passing game should become more of a reality throughout the 2000 season. With veteran quarterback Dan Ellis throwing to an experienced receiving corps, UVa has been able to spread its offense. That leaves the middle of the field, where tight ends like to work, wide open. In addition, the tight ends must serve as a threat in order for the Cavaliers' multi-back offense to be successful.
"Both Billy and Chris are very good pass receivers. This season, we've tried intentionally to involve the tight ends more, because they are good pass receivers and they are effective," said Wilmer. "If you are going to run a two-back offense, you need to have a tight end who can not only block, but can catch the ball and can be an [offensive] weapon."
Yet, unlike the common perception, the tight end position involves much more than simply catching passes and providing blocks. Caught somewhere between the roles of an offensive lineman and a wide receiver, the tight ends serve on both fronts and must know the refined details of both positions.
"We run a very diversified, pro-style offense, and we ask a lot out of [our tight ends]," said Wilmer. "We ask them to spread out and block and call out any hot reads or coverage reads that the wide receivers have to know. They must also be able to recognize a zone block from a gap block to a draw block, and they must work closely with the [offensive] tackles in order to make the offense go."
In the end, according to Wilmer, what almost all tight ends want most is to catch the football. Their role as blockers goes far too unnoticed, and the glory still remains in the possibility of making a big catch for a first down or the game-winning touchdown grab. Harking back to his days as a player at East Carolina University, Wilmer remembers he too sought the possible fame associated with making the big play.
"I played tight end in college, so I know how it is. The reason I played that position is because I wanted to catch the ball. That is why I did not want to be a lineman," said Wilmer. "[As a tight end], you want to catch the ball, but it is easier to catch it than it is to block. Maybe we should give more statistics to knock downs and other [blocking type categories] like that. A certain offense may not require Billy or Chris to block as much, but they need to, because they are big enough, fast, and pretty good. I would like to see them catch more balls, though, and I am sure they would too, but that's not their only purpose."
Just as the possibility has emerged for the tight ends to become more involved as receivers, coach Wilmer's responsibilities as recruiting coordinator have taken a favorable and much welcome turn for the better. UVa's newly-renovated stadium complex represents one of the most impressive football facilities in the nation and serves to attract some of the country's top high school football recruits.
"It is just awesome. I can not even explain what that commitment has meant to this school," said Wilmer. "For me, being here as long as I have, and seeing what people who love this program and love the University of Virginia have done, it is inspiring. It is a great selling point, and the recruits are really inspired when they go in [the new stadium]. It is a great place to bring people"
With happy players on the field and excited recruits on the way, Wilmer is equally dedicated to both of his roles within the football program. It is this type of winning combination that will hopefully take Virginia's tradition of football excellence to the next level.