- - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It hit Daquan Romero in the locker room after Saturday’s game that it had been three years since he was part of a losing effort on the gridiron.

He’s not alone. Virginia’s true freshmen have come, for the most part, from schools with a tradition of winning. It’s a mentality coach Mike London wanted to bring to the Cavaliers’ program.

Romero, a linebacker from Phoebus High School in Hampton, Va., was part of two undefeated state championship teams before suiting up for the Wahoos.

Now he and the other 11 true freshmen who have played this fall are having to learn what it’s like to take their knocks at the college level.

“You can’t practice the speed of the other team,” London said. “You can’t practice the atmosphere. You can’t practice some of those things that you only learn and get when you’re in a game and you’re playing.”

The early returns have been mixed on the stat sheet, but London views them as full of promise.

Experienced teammates agree, with fifth-year cornerback Dom Joseph saying that the youngsters have been inquisitive during practices.

“It’s been pretty fun, they ask a lot of questions and you answer them,” he said. “They’re young, but they’re smart. They’re definitely catching on to the system really quick, catching on to the culture around here.”

How quickly they make that transition will determine how the Cavaliers fare over the next month, with tough tests against Southern Mississippi, Georgia Tech and N.C. State awaiting.

London said that quarterback David Watford will be more involved in future game plans, as well as running back Clifton Richardson. Watford is just 5-for-10 passing, but Richardson is averaging 6.9 yards per carry over 18 attempts.

Receiver Dominique Terrell has been the lead punt returner but hasn’t produced big numbers, something the coaches attribute to other freshmen not holding their blocks to give him room.

On defense, it’s Romero, cornerback Tra Nicholson and safety Anthony Harris getting the bulk of the attention.

Romero’s shining moment came in the second half of UVa.’s 28-17 loss at North Carolina on Saturday when he collapsed the pocket and allowed Ausar Walcott to make a sack.

“They called my name,” Romero said. “He was like, ‘They gave you my sack!’ “

The attribution was corrected by the official stat keeper.

Read Michael Phillips’ UVa. blog at timesdispatch.com

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