Virginia's first football game in Hampton Roads was in 1900 against North Carolina. The Cavaliers defeated the Tar Heels 17-0 in Norfolk.
Virginia's most recent contest in these parts was in 1976 against VMI, also in Norfolk. The Cavaliers lost 13-7.
In between, Virginia traveled here to play Bucknell, Duke, Lehigh, Sewanee, South Carolina, William and Mary and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the latter coached by Pop Warner.
Given today's conference alignments, Virginia may never play again in the 757. But Friday, for the third consecutive year, area fans will get the next-best thing: an open-to-the-public, free-of-charge spring practice.
This year's venue is Christopher Newport University, following 2010 and '11 stops at Old Dominion and Darling Stadium, respectively.
Transporting scores of players and coaches, not to mention equipment, 150 miles for a mere practice surely is a thorn in the backside. But third-year coach Mike London believes the junkets — Northern Virginia and Richmond are the other stops this spring — pay off on several levels.
Marketing, visibility and fan relations are the obvious, particularly for a program that sold out one home game, versus Virginia Tech, in London's first two seasons.
One dividend that I was too dim to consider and that London mentioned immediately was the opportunity for prospects to see how Virginia's position coaches work with players, "their style, the techniques that they're coaching."
Recruits often attend games, "but they go sit up in the stands somewhere high up in the seats," London said. "But when they come to practices like this, open venues, they can see their position coach coach and teach and see his temperament.
"And I think that's been beneficial, because every place we've been, as a result we've had opportunities for young men to see us and check another box off as far as what they've learned about Virginia football."
Indeed, gauging assistant coaches during a game is virtually impossible, especially since some are shielded in the press box.
I've yet to hear a Cavaliers commitment say, "Wow, that spring practice and over-boiled hot dog at Darling Stadium sure sold me," but there's no denying the Hampton Roads flavor (19 scholarship players) of London's 2011 and '12 classes.
Perhaps that's natural for a coach who played his high school football at Tabb and Bethel. Though during Wednesday's conference call with reporters, London needed prompting on "Darling Stadium."
"I should know that," he laughed. "I scored many touchdowns in that stadium."
Given all those Hampton Roads signings, Friday's 7 p.m. practice is a chance for local fans to see area products such as defensive lineman Will Hill (Lafayette High), quarterback David Watford (Hampton), tailback Clifton Richardson (Menchville), safety Rijo Walker (Bethel) and linebacker Daquan Romero (Phoebus). All figure to play significant snaps this fall.
"We just want to be … (appreciative) of the fans that jump in the car and drive two-and-a-half (hours) to see us (during the season), then try to get down there so they jump in their cars and drive 15 minutes or 10 minutes," London said. "It looks like people have embraced the idea, it's been beneficial for us, as I said, in recruiting, the type of relationships that we have with coaches."
Toward that end, London and his CNU counterpart, Matt Kelchner, will host a clinic for high school coaches Saturday at CNU.
London said Charlottesville's central location allows the team to travel throughout the state and that a practice in southwestern Virginia is in the offing for a future year. That would take the Cavaliers into the belly of the beast: rival Virginia Tech.
"It's something different," London said of the road shows. "The players like it, and we're going to keep on doing it."
U.Va. in Hampton Roads
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: POMOCO Stadium on Christopher Newport's campus
WHAT: Clinic for high school coaches hosted by U.Va. coach Mike London and CNU coach Matt Kelchner
WHEN: 7 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: CNU's campus.
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