SI Vault
 
20. Virginia
Hank Hersch
September 04, 1985
Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye. Forget the past and you'll lose both eyes.—ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYNThe Gulag Archipelago
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 04, 1985

20. Virginia

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye. Forget the past and you'll lose both eyes.
—ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN
The Gulag Archipelago

Russian proverbs make their way into locker rooms about as often as coaches of George Welsh's caliber do. In just three years at Virginia, Welsh—a devotee of Russian literature who once recited the above lines before a game—has blinded the Wahoos to a miserable past. He has guided them to back-to-back winning seasons, a Top 20 finish in 1984—the Cavaliers' first since 1951—and a Peach Bowl victory last December in the Cavaliers' first-ever bowl appearance. Under Welsh, football in Charlottesville is no longer an excuse for bloodshot eyes. Virginia is for losers no longer.

A veritable 'Hoos' Who returns on offense, led by junior quarterback Don (Magic) Majkowski. A 6'9" high jumper in high school, Majkowski passed for 1,353 yards last season. What's more, he threw only three interceptions in his last 134 tosses after settling into the starting role. Majkowski also picked up 350 yards on the ground. "He's the ideal college quarterback," says Welsh, who was just that for Navy in '55. "He's capable of doing everything you ask, as long as you don't ask for too much."

Majkowski will be asked to get the ball to sophomore wideout John Ford, who averaged 28.7 yards a catch with seven touchdowns and was the '84 ACC Rookie of the Year. Ford developed his hands and 4.38 speed in Belle Glade, Fla. by snagging mud rabbits as they hopped out of cane fields set ablaze before the harvest. The snared hares brought $1.50 a head from local families.

The Cavalier running game figures to keep Magic's act from disappearing. Senior Barry (The Last) Word and junior Howard (Beaver) Petty will split time at tailback; they combined for 1,414 yards and 14 TDs last season as Virginia finished 17th in the nation in rushing. Both will set up behind an outstanding line led by 6'5", 296-pound tackle Jim Dombrowski, who was named the ACC's top blocker in '84.

The defense is as inexperienced as the offense is experienced. Only four starters return from the '84 unit that surrendered just 12.1 points a game during a nine-game unbeaten streak. Fortunately, one of those coming back is linebacker Charles McDaniel, who led the team in tackles the last three seasons.

The schedule is advantageous because the Cavs play three of their first four at home. And the high-powered offense should keep the pressure off the D at first. But Welsh won't be satisfied with 80-point shoot-outs. "We'll have a defense," says placekicker Kenny Stadlin, the Cavs' leading scorer in '84 with 11 field goals in 15 attempts and 40 of 40 PATs. "Even if Coach Welsh has to do something no one's done before, we'll have a defense."

Such faith is not inspired simply by quoting Solzhenitsyn. Welsh is considered college football's top game coach—at least according to a batch of former coaches, recruiting analysts and writers polled by The Miami Herald last December. However, Welsh's greatest strength may lie in managing his players. He runs his charges the way Frank Furillo runs the Hill Street precinct—with a firm, fair hand and each word doing the work of a dozen.

According to offensive line coach Tom O'Brien, one of several longtime Welsh assistants, "George is great at putting his team in a position to win. He doesn't make too many bad decisions, and he's flexible when he has to be flexible." Such as at the training table. After reading Eat To Win last summer, Welsh installed a potato bar at team meals and changed the pregame fare from steak and eggs to pasta and pancakes. Fueled by complex carbohydrates, Virginia went 8-2-2. " Coach Welsh thinks it's because this stuff is better," says fullback Antonio Rice. "But if you have a potato instead of a steak for breakfast, you're so mad you want to go out and kill."

Anyone care to translate that into Russian?

1