ATLANTA -- Admittedly, he was late. Players already were driving at full force in an intra-squad scrimmage.
Patrick Kerney set up the visit a couple weeks earlier with a Syracuse assistant. Kerney was in upstate New York to look at Colgate and figured he'd stop by the Syracuse campus to meet with a couple coaches.
But the secretary checked her list and had no idea who he was.
"OK," Kerney said. "So I guess I'm not a high priority."
Four years later, the Virginia defensive end is the top priority for offenses the Cavaliers face. He will go head to head today in the Peach Bowl with another All-American, Georgia offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb.
By this point, the former walk-on thought a reasonable goal would be 30 snaps a game as a back-up. He was recently named an All-American, and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the nation's top defensive player.
"Even coming into this season, it still exceeded my expectations," the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Kerney said. "It's been a wild ride."
It started at Taft, a Connecticut prep school, where Kerney starred in lacrosse and football. He figured life as a defensive midfielder was his best shot, but wanted to test his mettle in I-A football.
Dom Starsia sought him for the Cavs' high-profile lacrosse program and worked out a deal where Kerney could tryout for football. No promises, though.
"I think they were expecting some little preppie kid," Kerney said, "that they could break down in a couple days and send crying home to mama."
He's not playing lacrosse anymore. After just two scrimmages, Virginia defensive ends coach Bob Petchel told Kerney he'd made the traveling squad and would make the trip to Michigan for the Pigskin Classic. It was also at that time that Petchell told Kerney, "we made a mistake in not recruiting you."
After not playing in his first three games as a freshman, Kerney has competed in 33 straight games. He has 15 sacks and six other tackles for loss this season equaled Virginia records.
"The lacrosse staff did an excellent job evaluating him," Virginia defensive coordinator Rick Lantz quipped. "I want thank Dom Starsia."
He's a top freshman quarterback with all the tools to start at a major institution. Unfortunately, Nate Hybl isn't the freshman quarterback.
With Quincy Carter entrenched as the starter for the foreseeable future, Hybl probably will ponder a transfer in the next few weeks, possibly to Clemson.
"The consideration will probably be there," Hybl said. "The option will have to be considered, but right now I'm having a good time with my buddies at the bowl."
A year ago, it appeared Virginia's David Rivers had a solid chance to replace Aaron Brooks, the quarterback who will play his final game Thursday.
But the former Lakeside High standout was dropped from second to third on the depth chart and hasn't taken a snap this season.
"It's been kind of a bumpy road," said Rivers, a red-shirt sophomore. "But I've had a good time and don't have any regrets.
"I look forward to competing for the starting job next fall."
Rivers will battle Dan Ellis, who has appeared in five games this fall, attempting six passes. Rivers says he needs to improve his foot speed and his ability to anticipate.
Virginia hasn't played on AstroTurf since it defeated Georgia in the '95 Peach Bowl.
The Cavaliers have practiced on dry turf just once this season. But players and coaches don't think the change should play a part.
"If we don't win," Virginia coach George Welsh said, "I don't think it's going to be because we're playing on AstroTurf in a dome."
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