Cavalier Flashback: Anthony Poindexter Continues To Inspire Virginia

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJune 26, 2009

17 Oct 1998:  Defensive back Anthony Poindexter #3 of the Virginia Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. The Yellow Jackets defeated the Cavaliers 41-38.

Perhaps there is no more enigmatic team in college football this season than the Virginia Cavaliers.

Virginia has suffered from uncompromised mediocrity these past eight seasons under Al Groh, a condition that almost cost the head coach his job this past year.

After some tough talks, Groh kept his position but just about everybody else on the staff has changed.

High amounts of coaching turnover can cause problems for any program, and Virginia will now have its fourth different defensive coordinator in as many years not to mention a completely different offensive system and three questionable quarterbacks fighting for playing time.

No wonder no one knows what to make of the Cavaliers in 2009.

Still, Virginia fans can take solace in the fact that a familiar face will be roaming the sidelines for the Cavaliers for another year.

Of course, that should be no big surprise.  His entire career changed with his decision to stay in Charlottesville one more year.

Anthony Poindexter was an ACC juggernaut. 

The safety played with reckless abandon for four years at Virginia en route to winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year.  His strength and speed made NFL scouts drool on their clipboards.

After being named an All-American his junior year, Poindexter was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to declare early.

Poindexter had already had a stellar college career.  As a red-shirt freshman, Poindexter played for the arguably the greatest Virginia team of all-time in 1995.  It was the young Poindexter who assisted on the final tackle of Warrick Dunn in the historic victory over Florida State.

Virginia's win marked the first loss for the Seminoles in the ACC ever.  It also helped lead the Cavaliers to their second ACC title in school history and a Peach Bowl victory over Georgia.

His sophomore year, Poindexter set a school-record with 98 tackles.  More than a few of them came against North Carolina, a great game where UVA made a big comeback late to upset the top-10 ranked Tar Heels, 20-17.   

That loss helped send Carolina coach Mack Brown to Texas and helped gain Virginia some bragging rights in the rivalry.

With all those great accomplishments, the temptations of the NFL had to be alluring.

However, Poindexter was loyal to his school.  He knew the depth of the Virginia defensive backfield put them in position to contend.

Indeed the Cavaliers were at one point ranked in the top 10 that season and entered their final ACC game with a 5-2 conference record.

Poindexter had 73 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions heading into the N.C. State contest.  Another great season for the sure-fire NFL prodigy.

Well one play changed the course of Poindexter's life forever.

Wolfpack wide receiver Charles Coleman caught the ball and Poindexter made the play as usual.

The cost of that tackle though was extreme, Poindexter twisted his left leg.  In the process he tore not only his ACL but two other ligaments.

Poindexter's career at Virginia was over in a flash.

It's the nightmare all college football players have.  Now his NFL dreams had been completely dimmed with a painful reconstructive surgery.

Instead of going in the first round, Poindexter's name was not called until the seventh and final round.

The Baltimore Ravens took a chance on the ailing superstar and after two uninspiring years on special teams he was cut.

One play had ended Poindexter's playing career, but that's not where the story ends.

The Cavalier returned home to Charlottesville to help coach a team that meant so much to him.

In 2003, Poindexter returned to the sidelines as a graduate assistant for the football team.

The decision had to be nearly a no-brainer for Groh, he too was a former defensive starter and Virginia alumni.

By bringing back Poindexter he was connecting Virginia to some of its glory days under coach George Welsh. 

That season the Cavaliers recovered from an early season injury to quarterback and reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year Matt Schaub to reach the Continental Tire Bowl for a second straight year.

The defensive backfield put on a performance Poindexter could be proud of on that day.  Virginia became the team to break wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's consecutive games with a touchdown streak as the Cavaliers pulled off their second straight bowl victory over Groh against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

As one of the greatest safeties in school history, it seemed curious that coach Groh's next move was to put Poindexter at the position of running backs coach.

Unorthodox?  Perhaps, but the gamble seems to have worked.

In his first year as Virginia's running back coach, the Cavaliers had the second greatest improvement in rushing average in the history of the ACC. 

Behind the power of the running tandem of Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman, Virginia marched out to tie its longest winning streak in school history and peaked at the No. 5 ranking in the country.

Both men are now ranked in the top 10 in career rushing yards at Virginia.

In 2005, Virginia had some injury issues at the running back position but still managed to use the feet of quarterback Marques Hagans to pull off a huge victory over Florida State on the 10-year anniversary of their historic win.

After the departure of Lundy, the pressure was on Poindexter to find the next running back for Virginia.  Well it's safe to say he succeeded.

First it was Jason Snelling, a converted fullback who used his strength to help the Cavaliers average over 122 rushing yards per game.

Then it was Mikell Simpson, a man who started his career fourth on the depth chart, who single-handedly helped Virginia take out Maryland in 2007 en route to a Gator Bowl appearance.

Last year it was Cedric Peerman, a man who in many ways mirrored his mentor Poindexter.

Both men believed in playing to the whistle, and many of Peerman's best plays came when the defense was already slacking off.  Peerman typically refused to be tackled by one man and it resulted in big plays.

Both men knew the importance of setting an example, they never complained and they never showed fatigue or pain.  They were players that fans could be proud to cheer towards.

Peerman finished his senior year with a disappointing record but a strong performance.

His 127 rushing yards and touchdown against Georgia Tech gave the Cavaliers their biggest win of the season, but it was his 180-yard, two touchdown effort against East Carolina that turned around a season that appeared doomed for the dumpster.

Poindexter's unit has clearly seen success during his time.  So imagine the thrill Virginia fans must have to hear that their famed safety is finally getting the chance to return to his roots and coach the secondary this season.

"Coach gave me the opportunity to come back and coach the secondary," Poindexter said in a recent interview with  "It's always something I wanted to do.  To have the chance to come back and coach these guys, which I have a lot of great players at their positions, it's a great challenge but I'm excited about doing it."

He is not the only one excited.

If Virginia is going to make some noise in the ACC this season, it will have to rely on the strength of its secondary.  While the defensive backfield has been a nightmare at times during Groh's tenure, this corps of veterans is perhaps the biggest strength heading into this season.

"I think this group is as deep as I've seen at this University, even when I played with Ronde [Barber]," Poindexter said.

The compliment comes with high expectations though.  For a program that has taken on the image of the stoic and hard-nosed Groh, it is nice to see some energy from Poindexter on the sidelines.

The cornerback knew a thing or two about making a big play and he is trying to instill that into his young players.

"The first thing you have to overcome is that 'I'm going to get beat deep,'" Poindexter said. "The kids have got to understand that it's going to happen to everyone.  You've just got to play fast, try to make plays and do the system."  

Big plays in the secondary will be a big key for the Cavaliers this season.  Last year, Virginia's defense was ranked ninth in conference in interceptions and 10th in turnover margin.

Considering that three of Virginia's four losses in November came by 10 points or less, one big play on defense could have meant the difference between a bowl game and a long off-season.

So why not bring in a man ranked fifth in school history in interceptions?

"Play hard and good things will happen for you," Poindexter said.

As the longest tenured staff member at Virginia behind coach Groh, Poindexter now has a chance to shape the image of the program.

Without a doubt, it is his endless hustle and energy that Virginia so desperately needs.

When Poindexter roamed the field for the Cavaliers, it was his fearlessness that struck fear in opposing offenses.  

Poindexter's mission now will be bring the swagger back to the Orange Crush defense with his young apprentices.

It is not an easy task, but the Cavalier legend has made a legacy by succeeding in difficult positions.


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