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Virginia is preparing to reap the hidden benefits of bowl prep

College FootballVirginia CavaliersFootballCollege SportsChick-fil-A BowlGator BowlVirginia Tech Hokies

In his first two seasons at Virginia, Steve Greer already had packed away his football pads and gear by the end of November. His bowl game experience was limited to channel surfing.

Now, as U.Va. begins preparations for its Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup Dec. 31 against Auburn, Greer and his teammates will get to see what an extra month of practice can do for the program. Getting some bonus time on the field is a welcome change for a team that hasn't been to a bowl since the end of the 2007 season.

"It's not a good feeling when you're sitting at home and you know everybody else is playing," said Greer, a junior linebacker who leads the team with 103 tackles. "You feel kind of left out."

Wide receiver Kris Burd and cornerback Chase Minnifield are two of seven U.Va. starters that can even remember what it means to practice in December — nevermind actually playing in a game beyond November. Nobody on U.Va.'s roster has played in a bowl game.

In '07, a season that ended with U.Va. losing 31-28 to Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl, Burd and Minnifield redshirted during their first seasons at U.Va. (8-4). Burd said he learned from the upperclassmen in '07 how to handle the responsibility of setting an example for freshmen players.

"Just like when me and Chase were (freshmen), we went to the Gator Bowl, and those (upperclassmen) didn't leave anybody behind," Burd said. "Even though we redshirted, they made sure we were working hard and on time and doing things the right way."

U.Va. coach Mike London has recent experience with extended December practice time from his time as coach at Richmond in 2008 and '09, when the Spiders played in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs — winning the nation title in '08.

London said he may have a scrimmage this month involving the scout team players. While practices will be geared toward preparing for Auburn (7-5) first and foremost, the time spent in Charlottesville prior to departing for Atlanta and the bowl will be critical.

"One of the things I learned from (former U.Va.) coach (Al Groh) is that the practice and the preparation that you put into it while you're here at Virginia is very, very important," London said. "You go to the bowl site and you can get lost in the activities and the different things and the transportation back and forth and all the obligations that you have."

As soon as U.Va. found out Sunday night it was headed to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a reward for what London called a "body of work" as opposed to "one particular game," players started scouring YouTube and Auburn's football website to do a little pre-scouting.

"They won the national championship last year, so you can't take anything away from them, but we put in the same work," said Burd, who leads the team with 60 catches for 810 yards and a touchdown. "We acknowledge the challenge, and we look forward to it."

London called the bowl an opportunity to end the season on a positive note after losing Nov. 26 to Virginia Tech 38-0 in Charlottesville. For Minnifield, the bowl offers a chance to hopefully leave a positive legacy on his way out.

"We're trying to get it up there where Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech — the guys at the top of the conference that have been up there a while," said Minnifield, a first team All-ACC selection this season who Monday received the Pop Warner National College Football Award for athletic, academic and community leadership.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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College FootballVirginia CavaliersFootballCollege SportsChick-fil-A BowlGator BowlVirginia Tech Hokies
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