The Virginia Football Team of the Decade
In many ways it was a decade to forget.
During a ten-year span, we saw the end of one era of unparalleled success in George Welsh as well as the end of an era full of unsatisfactory mediocrity in Al Groh.
While the product on the field for Virginia fans failed to produce the wins we desperately craved, it did produce some high quality talent. Indeed, many of the best players of this decade are currently starting or playing for NFL teams.
Some of these names have gone on for even more success, while others have faded into obscurity. Nevertheless, let's take a moment to shine a light on all the players who helped define the Cavaliers this decade.
Hope you enjoy it!
No brainer on the quarterback for the Cavaliers.
Schaub was not only the best Virginia quarterback of this decade, but he has made the case for being perhaps the best All-Time.
During his four years at Virginia, Schaub broke 22 school records and finished with a completion percentage of 67 percent. Schaub was the 2003 ACC Offensive Player of the Year, beating out N.C. State signal-caller Philip Rivers.
However, what makes his staggering numbers even more impressive is the fact that he had to fight for his job three out of his four seasons at Virginia. Schaub appeared destined towards mediocrity in his first two seasons. His inability to avoid the rush made him appear like a statue out on the field.
Bryson Spinner and Marques Hagans, two mobile options gave Schaub stiff competition for the starting spout but it was the tutelage of Bill Musgrave that turned things around for Schaub at Virginia.
Under Musgrave's watch, Schaub became a force to be reckoned with. With over 7,500 yards and 56 touchdowns to his credit, Schaub will be consistently mentioned with some of the best quarterbacks in school history.
Lundy was a touchdown machine while at the University of Virginia.
Lundy's 52 touchdowns is more than any other running back in ACC history and his over 3,500 rushing yards make him fourth best in school history.
Considering the company around him like Tiki Barber, Thomas Jones and "Bullet" Bill Dudley, it's little wonder that Lundy deserves this spot.
Lundy's breakout performance came in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl where the freshman scored four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving. He single-handedly gave the West Virginia defense nightmares and helped represent the high watermark of the Al Groh era.
Lundy never reached that same level of acclaim after his bowl game performance but consistently provided the Virginia offense with that scoring punch every season he donned the orange and blue.
If there's something Virginia's offense has been predicated upon over the decade, it has been a power running game.
After the departure of Wali Lundy, someone was needed to step up and fill the void. Jason Snelling fit into that role.
The fullback from Richmond, Va. provided a safety blanket for freshman quarterback Jameel Sewell in the otherwise forgettable 2006 season.
Snelling finished his career with an impressive 5.3 yards per carry, a mark that puts him near the top of the school record books. He also provided the most rushing yards by a fullback in the ACC, along with solid blocking that was needed to give the new quarterback time to find receivers.
Snelling helped provide a model of what the fullback could be in the Virginia offense and, in many ways, his departure from the program helped begin the downward spiral of offensive futility Virginia fans came to know later on.
It's hard to believe that in the decade, Virginia actually had a wide receiver worth mentioning. However, Billy McMullen was just that.
210 career receptions by McMullen is second all-time in the ACC, none more memorable than his famous hook-and-ladder play in the waning moments of the Georgia Tech game to help Al Groh secure one of his biggest victories in his first season as Virginia coach.
McMullen represented a big target with decent speed to boot. He lacked those NFL receiver hands that separate the good from the great but he had what it took to move the chains and keep the offense moving.
Since his time at Virginia, the wide receiver has floated from NFL team to NFL team, unable to stick with a team. However, he can fondly look back at his time in Charlottesville and the accolades he achieved.
Ogletree is a classic case of what could have been.
In just three seasons, Ogletree racked up some impressive career numbers. However, one season ending injury and one simple decision to forgo his senior year left a bad taste in the mouths of the Cavalier faithful.
Ogletree was the safety valve for Jameel Sewell, finding open space in between the defense and keeping the chains moving. While he did have some deep range receptions to his credit, Groh was content to keep Ogletree in the ten-yard range and then let his legs do the rest.
Ogletree had two seasons of 50+ receptions, only eight other players in Virginia history has accomplished that feat once. He also had more receiving touchdowns in 2008 than all the other receivers on his team combined.
Ogletree's decision to leave early may not have been popular in Charlottesville but it appears to have paid off. The undrafted free agent has risen up the depth chart in Dallas with the Cowboys.
Jerry Jones has said that he intends to keep Ogletree active the rest of the way for his burst of speed that no other receiver on the team can match.
That alone should merit a spot on this list.
Does anything really need to be said here?
Heath Miller may well have his jersey retired one day at Virginia. He was Virginia's top receiver all four year at the school and may have been the best tight end in the country during this time period.
For evidence, just look at him tearing up the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Few players can balance the offensive production and the blocking responsibilities as beautifully as Miller did.
Miller finished second in receptions, seventh in yards and fourth in touchdown receptions in school history. Not, not as a tight end, but for any receiver in Virginia's past.
Miller was unstoppable in the 2003 victory over Virginia Tech and helped the Cavaliers avoid a decade of futility against their arch-rival.
If anyone is more deserving of this list than Miller, I am not sure who it would be.
The big man knows how to block.
Eugene Monroe was a highly touted recruit when he came to Virginia and suffice it to say he lived up to the hype. As a junior, he did not allow a single sack during the regular season.
As a senior, Monroe was not only a unanimous All-ACC selection but he was also named the ACC's best blocker. Monroe was selected eighth by the Jacksonville Jaguars in this year's draft and continued the tradition of Virginia lineman being selected early.
Now if Virginia could actually win with these guys...
Usually, replacing a giant like D'Brickashaw Ferguson is no simple task. Particularly when it's the guard position that protects the blind side of the quarterback.
Still, Branden Albert stepped in beautifully. Earning All-ACC honors in his junior year, Albert was only one of two offensive lineman to start as a true freshman since 1972.
Albert was drafted 15th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs, proving that all his hard work in Hargrave Military Academy, trying to make the grade, paid off.
While Brad Butler was not a first-round pick like many other linemen on this list, he also was one of the most versatile.
Butler was constantly shifting positions during his four year career, but he ended it as one of only three Cavaliers in school history to start in four bowl games.
Butler was the model of consistency, starting 31 consecutive games and earning awards for his play. The fifth-round pick is still playing with the Buffalo Bills.
On a completely random note, Butler is also one of the smarter players of the decade, spending two semesters with famed political pundit Larry Sabato at the UVA Center For Politics.
This big man may have a career long after he has taken his last snap.
The man who got it all started for Virginia linemen.
Ferguson was the center piece to Al Groh's teams in the early years, providing protection to Matt Schaub and Marques Hagans to keep the offense moving.
In truth, with a name like D'Brickashaw, you almost have to be destined to be a great lineman. Ferguson ended his Virginia career as a two-time first-team All-ACC and All-American honors his senior year.
Ferguson started 49 games and improved his mind and body throughout that time, proving the critics wrong who considered him undersized by gaining some big muscle his final season and earning the fourth pick of the first round by the New York Jets.
The only offensive tackle taken in the first round, Ferguson cemented his legacy as an all-timer in Virginia lore.
When I went to Virginia, we always used to refer to this star offensive lineman as "The Good Elton Brown," a knock on the under-achieving basketball player of the same name but praise for this big boy who knew how to create holes for the Virginia running game.
Brown was a 2004 All-American at Virginia and a Lombardi Award semi-finalist. He also was honored with All-ACC honors twice in his career, making him one of the more decorated and successful lineman in Virginia history.
In truth, Brown set the standard that many of his successors have taken to the next level. Considering the awards and honors racked up by this starting five, one must wonder how Virginia did not win more games.
It may also explain how pathetic the offense has been since their departures.
Suffice it to say, few defensive linemen have ever meant as much to their team as Chris Long did to the Virginia Cavaliers.
Long has a motor that is second to none, fighting through double and triple teams to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
In truth, near the end of his collegiate career the most dangerous offensive weapon on the field was not a Virginia quarterback or receiver but Long.
His defining moment came against Maryland when the defensive end plowed over Chris Turner for a safety that helped Virginia secure a one-point victory over their rival on a nationally televised night game.
Still, that was only one of many great moments for Long in that 2007 season of wonder where the Cavaliers won five games by two points or less.
Long received the honor of having his jersey retired right before his final home game and there was no complaint here. Long kept Groh's career alive at Virginia, for better or worse. He represented what every fan wants in a player. His effort and passion are unquestioned and being taken with the second pick by the St. Louis Rams shows the respect he has demanded nationally.
Even with a famous daddy, Chris Long has made a name all on his own.
When Virginia was making its incredible run in 2004 where the Cavaliers peaked at No. 6 in the country, Chris Canty was creating havoc for opposing offenses.
Canty was a versatile, athletic end that could play well on both the pass and the rush. In a 3-4 defense, the pressure is on those ends to play at a very high level and Canty was exactly what Virginia needed.
However, his senior season ended abruptly when he was injured against Syracuse a few weeks later Virginia suffered its first loss of the season on the road to Florida State.
While Canty was far from the sole reason Virginia lost that game, in a season where the Cavaliers were so close to becoming a legitimate contender in the ACC, every loss hurt.
Canty was a two-time second-team All-ACC selection and was coming off a career high 104 tackles his junior season before tearing just about every part of a knee someone can tear.
In truth, Canty was lucky to avoid a Majestic Mapp situation. He is back and better than ever with the New York Giants, but he will forever be remembered in Charlottesville for his contributions in orange and blue.
It may have ended ugly, but boy did Jeffrey Fitzgerald have two beautiful seasons at Virginia.
The heir apparent to Chris Long's throne benefited greatly from all that attention on No, 91. So much so that Fitzgerald was a unanimous freshman All-American in 2006 as well as leading the teams in sacks.
Fitzgerald may not have made the grade academically but the kid was able to put offensive linemen to school. In two years, Fitzgerald had 137 tackles, 13 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and a few curse words from offensive coordinators.
In many ways, the off-season of 2008 which included Sewell's suspension and Fitzgerald's departure marked the beginning of the end of the Al Groh era. After transferring to Kansas State, then-head coach Ron Prince was let go and Fitzgerald was left up a creek without the proverbial paddle.
A sad ending, but a captivating story makes Fitzgerald worthy of this list.
The Princess Anne High star may have been overshadowed at times by his partner in crime, Ahmad Brooks, but Parham was a disciplined and consistent superstar in Groh's 3-4 defense.
For a three year stretch Parham had at least 80 tackles each season, including a dominant 103 tackles in 2005 after the departure of Brooks.
While Brooks had a tendency to go off and do his own thing on the field, Parham played the position beautifully and defended his space. In truth, many coordinators knew better than to throw in his direction.
Parham knew how to get to the quarterback as well, recording 8.5 sacks in his final season.
The five-star recruit lived up to the hype and helped keep the Virginia defense ferocious during the hey day of Groh and company. His numbers are worthy of a spot on this list.
Let's face it, Brooks was not always the smartest linebacker. He had his issues at Virginia and his departure was far from graceful.
Nevertheless, Brooks was a freakish athlete and his talent alone makes him one of the best defensive players to attend the University of Virginia. Brooks, with his partner Parham, created havoc in the offensive back field.
Brooks started off strong, leading the team in tackles in his first two seasons. In truth, he had one of the best freshman campaigns in school history with 117 tackles, four sacks and 15 quarterback pressures. The next season, he was one of three finalists for the Butkus Award and earned All-American honors.
Brooks had a junior season full of injuries and off the field issues but his career between the tackles was one of the best in school history.
Perhaps the signature moment of Brooks' career came in a loss to Virginia Tech when he leaped over the offensive lineman on the snap and tackled the quarterback for a loss. In many ways this image represented the conundrum that is Ahmad Brooks, a freakish talent whose big plays never really coincided with the teams success.
Sintim continued the great tradition of linebackers in the Groh era.
Sintim was a consistent pass-rusher who avoided the major injury and found ways to the quarterback. In his senior season, Sintim led the country in sacks by a linebacker and in the process earned an All-ACC mention.
Sintim's defining moment came in the image above, the Gator Bowl. Sintim helped lead a defense the shut down the highly touted Texas Tech offense for three-and-a-half quarters. If not for an injury to Jameel Sewell, Groh would have picked up the biggest win of his career at Virginia.
Instead, the crushing loss dampened the spirits of Charlottesville and Sintim's explosive talent was wasted. Fortunately, he seems to have found a happy home in New York and appears to be a player of the future for the Giants.
We all knew by the end of Blackstock's junior year that the pass rushing monster was not coming back to Virginia. After all, that image is something just about every ACC quarterback saw at some point or another.
Blackstock led the team in sacks all three years as a Cavalier, most of the time with twice as many as his nearest competitor. Groh tried to appease the big man in the bowl game against Fresno State, letting the linebacker even run some plays on offense.
Nevertheless, he was gone and his mark was unquestioned. He earned All-ACC accolades for his achievement and was a second round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2005 Draft.
Life has not been easy for Blackstock since then, bouncing from the Cardinals to the Bengals and is currently a free agent seeking work in the game that he loves.
Hopefully he can look back fondly to his days of glory in Scott Stadium.
DB—Almondo "Muffin" Curry
Let's face it, when you have a nickname like "Muffin," how can you not be on this list?
I remember hearing Curry's name a lot growing up. Then again, how could you forget hearing it?
The hard-hitting Muffin led the ACC in sacks by a defensive backfield player for two consecutive seasons. As a team co-captain with Matt Schaub, he helped lead one of the most talented Virginia defenses in quite some time.
At 5'8, Curry was used to playing the role of the underdog. His fiery heart and soul made him a player worth emulating and a player that we could all be proud of as Virginia fans.
Curry is currently in the CFL and still playing hard. His physicality is something that his been sorely lacking at times in these current Virginia teams and something that makes him worthy of this list.
Another hard hitting defensive back, Nate Lyles knew how to leave his mark on offensive players.
Lyles was an emerging safety when a scary hit in 2005 against Georgia Tech risked his career. Despite missing nearly a month of action, Lyles still finished ninth on the team in tackles and second in interceptions.
Fortunately for Virginia fans, this story had a happy ending. Lyles played 25 games the next two seasons and continued to earn praise and credit from the football community.
Lyles had a strong senior campaign where he recorded 68 tackles and helped lead the Cavaliers to a nine-win season. His overall athleticism and versatility made him a player to be reckoned with in Virginia and helped cement his status on this list.
Marcus Hamilton was a game-changer for the Cavaliers.
Hamilton led the team in interceptions for three straight seasons, his biggest performance coming in Virginia's victory over Florida State in 2005 where two interceptions helped turn the tide in their favor. He also finished off the Minnesota Golden Gophers when he intercepted Bryan Cupito in the endzone for Al Groh's final bowl victory in 2005.
The experienced cornerback helped Virginia in the turnover battle, so much so that it convinced Groh to adopt a very conservative gameplan after the departure of former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Hamilton was a model of consistency, playing his heart out in each and every game. His numbers are the best of any cornerback this decade and deserves his spot on the list.
He may have had some off the field issues, but Franklin battled back and this three-year starter put up some impressive career numbers during his time at Virginia.
The free safety earned himself a reputation as a "finisher" during his time, making more than a few game-clinching interceptions. Franklin is the one who made the key interception of Drew Weatherford with less than a minute remaining to seal the victory over Florida State for the first time in 10 years.
Franklin also picked up the win with a late interception against N.C. State in 2006 and worked with Marcus Hamilton to make the Virginia defense a force to be reckoned with.