ATLANTA — Corey Mosley and LaRoy Reynolds have a saying when people doubt their football team.
“We say, ‘U.Va. this, U.Va. that … U.Va.’s back,’” Mosley said. “Just that people are saying this or that about us, but we’re back.”
The Virginia Cavaliers are back, and a spot in Saturday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl against Auburn provides the tangible evidence. But for Mosley and his teammates, that’s not enough.
Practices in Charlottesville took on an intense feel, and it’s carried over to the Georgia Dome this week as the team looks to win its first bowl game since 2005.
“It would be huge,” defensive lineman Jake Snyder said. “It’s been a while since we won a bowl game. I don’t even know when it was. Some people say it doesn’t really matter, but it’s as important as any other game, especially to end the season on a good note for the seniors, the other players and the coaches.”
In a final tribute, some of those seniors were carried off the field at the end of U.Va.’s last practice in Charlottesville.
They view the game as a culmination of four years of work, including two under coach Mike London, to turn around the fortunes of Virginia football.
London was an assistant coach in 2007 when the Cavaliers reached the Gator Bowl. He borrowed some of coach Al Groh’s techniques from that trip, including installing the game plan in Charlottesville so it wouldn’t have to be done amidst the distraction of bowl week.
“Every day we’re constantly reminded that we’re down here to win the game,” offensive lineman Oday Aboushi said. “It’s nice that we made it to a bowl game. That was one of our biggest goals this year, and now that we’ve accomplished it, we have to finish it. We have more to prove.”
The Cavaliers finished at 8-4, but cite road victories against Miami and Florida State — both on national television — as proof that they’re ready for the spotlight.
If anything, Saturday’s primetime kickoff gives the team a much-needed opportunity for rest.
London looked visibly fatigued at a pre-bowl press conference on Friday, and the players have said that if anything, there’s been too much to do in Atlanta.
The bowl has planned a number of activities each day, which has been worked in among time spent practicing and socializing with family members and other supporters who have made the trip.
Still, preparation hasn’t been sacrificed, with players comparing the long layoff to when the Cavs beat Georgia Tech after a bye week earlier this year.
Now staying at the 47-floor Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta, the players have been seeing U.Va. gear everywhere they look. The only drawback has been the elevator rides to their rooms — an ear-popping experience.
Having a view from the top is a new experience for the Wahoos, and it’s not one they want to relinquish anytime soon.
Read Michael Phillips’ U.Va blog at TimesDispatch.com