CHARLOTTESVILLE – Every time Virginia linebacker Daquan Romero looked up at his cheering section in the stands last Saturday at North Carolina State, he saw a face that hadn’t been there at any of his other college games, but it was a presence that made him smile.
Romero’s dad, Hugo, had a chance to attend one of his son’s college games for the first time. Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York City and made Big Apple resident Hugo’s travel arrangements an immense pain, but nothing was going to keep him from getting to Raleigh, N.C., especially considering it was Romero’s first start for U.Va. (3-6 overall, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference).
“I don’t show it as much, but it was really emotional,” said Hugo, who lives in Harlem and drives taxis and limousines in New York City. “It’s incredible. It’s amazing. His first start, away from home, and to see they’d lost every game except their first two opening games, and then getting the opportunity to start, he plays a pretty fair game and they win by 27 points? Just amazing.”
Romero struggled to make the transition from defensive end for Phoebus High, where he had a combined 49 sacks in his junior and senior seasons, to college linebacker. But he finished U.Va.’s 33-6 win against N.C. State with a career-high six tackles from the strong-side linebacker position.
He started in place of suspended regular starter Henry Coley. Romero also tipped a pass that was intercepted by defensive end Eli Harold.
It may not have been the perfect starting debut for Romero, but Cavaliers coach Mike London saw enough to convince him Romero may be ready for another start Saturday against Miami (5-4, 4-2).
“After the game, and going over the grades with (linebackers) coach (Vincent) Brown and the defensive coaches, (Romero) actually played a pretty good game,” said London, whose team must win its last three regular-season games just to be bowl-eligible. “He played a game that he missed a tackle, but at the same time, he was involved in some tackles. He was involved in the (interception) that Eli got. He extended a lot of reps, a lot of opportunities.”
Though Hugo didn’t suffer any water damage and never lost power at his home, he still had to do some last-minute finagling to make sure he got on a flight out of New York.
Flights in New York were canceled in the wake of the hurricane, but Hugo was able to find a seat on a flight out of LaGuardia Airport in Queens last Friday that got him to Charlotte. He didn’t have a flight back home, so he just rented a car and drove back Monday to New York.
“It was a tiring week, but you have to do it,” said Hugo, who added the flooding in New York didn’t affect his job all that much in terms of demand, but bridge and route closings made life interesting on the roads. “With him making his debut start, you have to do everything you can do to make it there to give him all the support he needs.”
Romero didn’t find out his dad would be coming to the game until last Wednesday. Hugo, who estimated he saw Romero play about a half-dozen times for Phoebus, wanted to keep his arrival a secret, but Hugo finally had to tell him in order to get tickets to the N.C. State game.
Hugo said he’s trying his best to figure a way to get to Charlottesville next Thursday night for U.Va.’s game against North Carolina.
“It was just the perfect time for him to come,” said Romero, whose birthday is next week.
“I understand with my dad’s schedule he’s always busy. I try not to force anything on him, because I know that can be overwhelming.”
Staying focused on all his responsibilities was an obvious challenge for Romero, given all the eyes he had on him at the game. It wasn’t just his dad screaming his lungs out from the Carter-Finley Stadium stands.
“It was a good feeling to see your dad, your son, your mom, your sister, your brother, your aunt all in the same setting,” said Romero, whose son, Brandon, is 4 years old. “I’m not a big crier, so I wasn’t going to cry or nothing, but it was just a good feeling to see everybody and give everybody a hug.
“I felt like I could’ve done more (in the game). I feel like I didn’t play with enough emotion. It was kind of nervousness for your first time starting in a sold-out game. It’s like, ‘Wow.’ All you see is red (N.C. State) T-shirts and you’re not really used to it. I mean, it’s not like the Phoebus-Hampton game.”