The authority for sports coverage in the Fredericksburg region.
College Football: Harold packs speed, but not yet pounds
U.VA’S FRESHMAN DE MUST RELY ON QUICKNESS, AS HE DOESN’T HAVE THE HEFT
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
CHARLOTTESVILLE—Eli Harold glanced at the scale and was thrilled with the results.
While most Americans want to slim down, Harold was ecstatic last summer because he had finally reached 230 pounds.
WAKE FOREST (3–3) at VIRGINIA (2–5)
WHEN: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville
TV: Fox (channels 5, 35)
RADIO: WGRQ–FM 95.9
But when Harold arrived at the University of Virginia, the true freshman defensive end was let down as he was told he had dropped 8 pounds since his milestone.
“I have a really high metabolism,” Harold said. “No matter how much I eat it just always seems to vanish some way, somehow.”
That would be fine if Harold (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) wasn’t expected to contend with 300-pound offensive linemen on a weekly basis.
Harold’s lack of bulk has forced him to rely on speed early in his career.
It worked last Saturday as he recorded three tackles for loss and 1 sacks in the Cavaliers’ 27–20 loss to Maryland.
The former high school All-American from Virginia Beach said defensive line coach Jeff Hanson told him early last week that his role would increase as the Cavaliers (2–5, 0–3) turn to youth in what is shaping up as a lost season.
“[Maryland] had a freshman tackle and he hadn’t really seen speed, so [Hanson] wanted me to speed rush him,” Harold said. “It kind of worked out for the better.”
The play of a few young defensive linemen against the Terrapins provided a rare bright spot for the Cavaliers, who will attempt to snap a five-game losing streak on Saturday when they host Wake Forest.
Harold, fellow true freshman Mike Moore, redshirt freshman David Dean and sophomore Chris Brathwaite all saw their most extensive action of the season.
“I think when you have those opportunities like that and they’re extended to young players, the energy of those young players can sustain you,” Cavaliers head coach Mike London said.
Still, college football hasn’t been an easy transition for Harold.
He admitted that he didn’t know what to do in the first game of the season when Richmond went into a no-huddle offense.
Harold said he didn’t learn the playbook until the final few days of preseason practice.
He said that in high school, his combination of speed and power proved difficult for opponents to overcome.
“I either bull-rushed them or I ran past them,” Harold said. “Now in college you’re not going to bull-rush a guy 90 percent of the time. I mean, they weigh, like, 320 pounds, so it’s not easy to do.”
Harold said he wants to model his game after Washington Redskins Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who weighed just 208 pounds when he entered the University of Texas. Orakpo played defensive end for the Longhorns.
“You see the guy he is now,” Harold said of Orakpo. “He is a big, strong dude that can play in space. Hopefully I can do that in the future.”
Harold gained a bit of confidence in a preseason scrimmage when he beat Virginia standout right tackle Morgan Moses for a sack.
But during the season, Harold said, it’s been difficult to learn the tendencies of every lineman he faces. He said he was forced to use a backup plan when he realized his moves were being stuffed in a 42–17 loss to Duke two weeks ago.
“Breaking down film, it’s a headache,” Harold said. “Critiquing offensive linemen is something I’ve got to get better at, but I’m showing good progression.”
Harold has turned to a unique stance on the line to get by.
He gets extremely low, so his face mask is just inches from the ground.
“It’s kind of unorthodox,” Brathwaite said. “But it gets the job done.”
The coaching staff wants Harold to play at 245 pounds in the future, so he doesn’t have to rely strictly on speed.
But for now, they’ll settle for performances like Saturday’s.
Harold said he was motivated because his older brother attended one of his college games for the first time.
He sent Harold a text message telling him to “ball out” for their mother, Sheila, who died of pancreatic cancer in January 2011. She was 56.
“I go into every game thinking the same way,” Harold said, “and that’s to play for my mom.”
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526