Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
The fourth-year junior says he's ready to move into the middle linebacker role as the Cavliers try to replace their leading tackler.
ANDREW SHURTLEFF | The Daily Progress
Virginia's Henry Coley started the first eight games of the 2012 season at outside linebacker.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Time
UVa’s Henry Coley was suspended for the final four games of the 2012 season.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Henry Coley is aware of the productivity that Virginia is losing with the departure of middle linebacker Steve Greer, the Cavaliers’ leading tackler in three of the past four seasons.
Coley also points out that it will be easier to put up impressive tackle numbers from the field than the bench. Or the stands.
Coley was suspended for the final four games of the 2012 season, a development that did not draw big headlines at the time.
Coley is quick to verify that the suspension was not academic, but allowed that “disciplinary” might be a reasonable description.
“There was a dispute,” he said. “It was very difficult. I almost wanted to walk away from the game, but then I thought about everything I’d be walking away from, which is getting a degree from here and setting an example for a 6-year-old little brother I have at home.
“It made me that much more hungry to succeed, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Two years out of my career were gone, one due to injury and another one due to disciplinary reasons. We have a certain level of respect for the coaches that we lost at some point last year, but we’re getting it back.”
By “we,” Coley conceded that he was talking about himself.
Coley’s new position coach is also the Cavaliers’ defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta, a tough-love former Virginia safety.
What about Tenuta?
“What about him?” Coley, a fourth-year junior, responded. “He’s a good guy. He just wants what’s best for his players on an off the field.”
Coley thinks the Cavaliers will be getting his best at middle linebacker. He started the first eight games of the 2012 season at outside linebacker.
He prefers the middle.
“Can’t nobody run away from you on the inside,” said Coley, who was nicknamed “the Hammer” in middle school and kept that moniker at Bayside High School.
“Whenever you’re on the outside and stopping everything, it’s easy for a team to resort to running to the other side of the field. But, whenever you’re in the middle, they can’t help but reckon with you.”
Coley was fourth on the team in tackles before his suspension, after which he dropped to ninth.
Greer finished the season with 122 tackles, followed by fellow senior LaRoy Reynolds with 90. One of Tenuta’s chief tasks is replacing those 212 tackles.
“Even when Steve Greer was here, my goal was always to be the leading tackler on the team,” said Coley, who is listed at 6 foot 2 and a career-high 240 pounds.
“The defense has to run through the linebackers, just like an offense can’t operate without the quarterback. Yes, I’ve got some big shoes to fill. But, the game of football is supposed to be a cycle.
“That’s how you build a program, by having the next guy step up to the plate and take a swing.”
A program is built through recruiting, as well, and Coley opened the door for a host of former Bayside players who have followed him to Virginia.
UVa has signed a player from Bayside, located in Virginia Beach, in each of its past four classes. There was Coley in 2010, cornerback Demetrious Nicholson in 2011, defensive back Anthony Cooper in 2012 and running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell this year .
Nicholson and Mizzell were rated among the top five prospects in the state, as is current Bayside safety Quin Blanding, who has committed to UVa for 2014.
“All of us have played together since middle school, one way or another,” said Coley, who remembers trying to persuade the Bayside coaches to use Mizzell as a freshman.
“Coach [Chip] West is the recruiter there, so, of course you have to give him credit. But, I also feel everybody got that Virginia atmosphere, especially once [the Cavaliers] had a winning season.”
That was in 2011, when Greer was injured late in the season and Coley made his starting debut in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Coley seems to be embracing his elder statesman role and not just with his Bayside homies.
“I’m trying to be a more vocal leader, just bringing that energy that a team needs,” he said. “A lot of these games are won before they’re played, just due to the energy of one team or another.”
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes