Football: Valles named starting linebacker
True freshman earns respect of coaches, fellow players
“When it rains, it pours.” That was the theme for Virginia this past weekend as it took down the Virginia Military Institute with an offensive onslaught that racked up 580 offensive yards. It was clear that the Cavalier squad had taken full advantage of its bye week to prepare for the Keydets, but arguably no one took advantage of the bye week more than true freshman linebacker Max Valles.
“Max, even during the open week, had been demonstrating some abilities,” coach Mike London said. “One, to be a pretty good pass rusher, to be dynamic off the edge … [He] was a guy that went out and practiced and showed coaches that he had what it takes to be put in that position.”
Valles’ performance during that bye week has earned him the starting job as outside linebacker. Virginia fans, though, did not have much of a chance to see Valles in action against VMI because of the type of scheme defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta wanted to run.
“He played only seven reps this game because of the packaging that we had going on,” London said. “But during the course of the open week he was very much involved with getting as many reps, and if you noticed he also was heavily involved in the special teams, as well.”
Valles is stepping onto the field with a defensive unit that is starting to make a name for itself. The Virginia defense is currently one of the best in the country on third down, with only Florida, Louisville and Michigan State holding opponents to a lower conversion rate. Valles’ skillset as a former safety and defensive end should only bolster the squad’s effectiveness.
“Max is a great pass rusher,” junior linebacker Daquan Romero said. “That’s what he brings to the defense is that skill, that pass rushing … His energy level is ridiculous.”
Virginia is averaging 2.0 sacks per game, good enough to be in the top 50 in the country. Valles’ ability to get pressure on the quarterback is one of the key reasons he won the starting job, and London sees getting behind the line of scrimmage as crucial to the team’s success in the upcoming weeks.
“We talked about being an attack style defense,” London said. “And I think what you see, it lends itself to getting hits on the quarterback, tackles in the backfield or a multiple number of hats to the football.”
By pressuring the quarterback, London hopes that the team can cause more turnovers and eventually lead to defensive touchdowns.
“The way the defense is predicated is to make the ball come out fast and to be a penetrating style defense,” London said. “We’ve seen some positive things from those guys, and now, again, as Jon and all the rest of the coaches will tell you, we have to improve as well. We want to score on defense.”
Valles’ previous experience as a safety has helped him develop into somewhat of a ballhawk with a single-minded approach. His teammates have recognized his aggressive approach, but they maintain he has room to grow as a member of the team.
“With Max, … he’s still learning along the way,” Romero said. “He has it, but at the same time he’s not as confident in what or what not to do, so sometimes he’s got to be told. At the end of the day, I always live by this: If you don’t know what to do, go find the football.”