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Mt. Rushmore Series: Virginia Football

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Who are the four giants of Cavalier football?

Earlier this week, Streaking the Lawn brought you the Mount Rushmore of Virginia baseball: four giants who have shaped the history and success of the program.

Now it’s football’s turn. Here are the four Virginia Cavaliers we would carve in stone.

George Welsh - head coach, 1982–2000

Convenient to start with a George W., both on the real life mountain and here on STL’s. The argument for Welsh is simple: the modern era of Cavalier football was built by Welsh, whose two decades at the helm lifted the Hoos from conference laughingstock to national prominence. Still in the top 25 for career wins among all Division I coaches, Welsh retired as the winningest coach in ACC history with 85 conference victories. Sixteen of UVA’s 26 all-time first-team All-American selections came while Welsh was coach; Jim Dombrowski’s selection in 1985 was the Hoos’ first in 28 years. He pushed for the construction of the McCue Center to modernize Virginia’s football facilities and reach equal footing with its athletic peers in the ACC.

For many of us, George Welsh WAS Virginia football for almost twenty years. There is no one better to anchor this monument to the program’s history.

Others considered (but none seriously): W. Rice Warren (1913, 1920–21); Frank Murray (1937–45); Art Guepe (1946–52).

Bill Dudley - halfback, 1939–41

First, a note about process. In selecting players to join Coach Welsh, we focused on eras: when Virginia football was at its best, who was the star of the show?

Bullet Bill Dudley is here as the representative of the entire pre-Welsh era. In his senior season (1941), Dudley became Virginia’s second-ever first-team All-American. He won the Maxwell Award and finished 5th in Heisman voting while leading the entire country in points scored (134), rushing average (6.2 yards per carry), touchdowns (18), and touchdowns responsible for (29). Dudley’s Hoos went 8-1 that season, and Dudley became the #1 overall pick in the 1942 NFL Draft. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame ten years later.

There may have been better teams before George Welsh came to Charlottesville—the 1913, 1914, and 1915 squads are the three best UVA squads in history according to Sports-Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS); Buck Mayer’s exploits for those squads put him a close second to Dudley. Art Guepe’s 1951 squad was the first to earn a bowl invitation and the first to end the season ranked in the final AP poll. But no single player shined brighter than Dudley, and he carries the torch for all those squads onto our Mount Rushmore.

Others considered: Sam Honaker (quarterback, 1906–09); Eugene “Buck” Mayer (halfback, 1912–15); Gene Edmonds (halfback, 1948–49); Joe Palumbo (guard, 1949–51); Jim Bakhtiar (fullback, 1955–57); Frank Quayle (halfback, 1966–68).

Shawn Moore - quarterback, 1987-90

The late 1980s and early 1990s might as well be called the “Moore Era” of UVA football, as the famed Moore-to-Moore connection—Shawn throwing to wide receiver Herman—lifted Virginia to heights it had not known before and has only sniffed since.

Moore’s junior campaign in 1989 is UVA’s only 10-win season—ever. His senior season in 1990 brought Charlottesville its first and still only AP #1 ranking. Moore was fourth in the NCAA in passing efficiency in 1989 and led the country in that category in 1990. Despite missing the Hoos’ 1990 regular season finale with a dislocated thumb, Moore finished fourth in Heisman voting; at the time, it was the best-ever showing for an ACC player. (Herman Moore finished sixth, too.)

Moore’s professional playing career was relatively unremarkable, but he returned to Grounds as an assistant coach in 2010.

Numerous other players built the foundation through the 1980s, and plenty more powered the consistent, sometimes-spectacular teams of the 1990s. But when Virginia football was at its peak, it was Shawn Moore who took them there.

Others considered: Jim Dombrowski (offensive tackle, 1982–85); Terry Kirby (running back, 1989–92); Herman Moore (1988–90); Chris Slade (defensive end, 1989–92); Tiki Barber (running back, 1993–96); Anthony Poindexter (defensive back, 1995–98); Thomas Jones (running back, 1996–99).

Marques Hagans - quarterback/wide receiver, 2002–05

The early 2000s, at the height of the Al Groh years, are the third great era of Virginia football. The 2004 squad is Virginia’s fifth-best in SRS, while the 2003 squad is 15th. It is one of only two stretches of four consecutive bowl appearances for the Cavaliers (1993–96 is the other). Sure, the goat-horns helmets may not have been elite but the atmosphere—and the teams—in the newly expanded Scott Stadium those four years was hard to beat.

And in the middle of it all was Marques Hagans. After wrestling the starting QB job away from Matt Schaub in early 2002, Hagans became one of Schaub’s favored and most reliable targets over the rest of 2002 and 2003 as the Cavaliers won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in ten years. When Schaub graduated, Hagans quickly regained the reins of UVA’s offense, moving back to quarterback for 2004 and 2005. He rushed and threw the Hoos up to #6 in the AP poll in 2004, and his dazzling performance in an upset of Florida State in 2005 led Bobby Bowden to exclaim that his Seminoles “just couldn’t stop that dadgum number 18!”

But here’s the biggest reason why, for our Mount Rushmore, Hagans is the face of that era: he bridges the gap to what might be the next great era of Virginia football. A legend in the Tidewater region of Virginia, Hagans’ presence on Bronco Mendenhall’s staff gave the newly-arrived coaches from Provo instant credibility around the Commonwealth. Hagans has coached UVA’s wide receivers into one of the most reliable receiving units in the entire country.

For his excellence as a player AND a coach, Hagans joins the three other greats in rounding out our Mount Rushmore.

Others considered: Matt Schaub (quarterback, 2000–03); Heath Miller (tight end, 2002–04); D’Brickashaw Ferguson (offensive tackle, 2002–05); Wali Lundy (running back, 2002–05); Ahmad Brooks (linebacker, 2004–05); Chris Long (defensive end, 2004–07).

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Someone we missed? Some significant factor we overlooked? Who would be your four? Let us know in the comments below.