True freshman finds home at starting linebacker

Athletic Valles impresses against Pitt, will start again

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Three weeks ago, freshman linebacker Max Valles was just another name along the Virginia sideline, watching in awe of Oregon’s hypersonic offense. Fast forward to last Saturday and Valles is the Cavaliers’ starting outside linebacker, leading the team with 2.5 sacks against a potent Pittsburgh offense. His immediate success has stunned Virginia’s fan base, but even Valles himself is surprised by his quick ascension up the depth chart.

“Honestly, it still hasn’t sunk in for me yet,” Valles said. “I’ll see people around campus and they run up to me and are like, ‘Max, great game! It’s crazy you’re a true freshman.’ In my head, it’s like, ‘Is this really happening?’”

Rated a two-star athlete recruit by Rivals, Valles committed to Virginia and then spent a year prepping at Fork Union Military Academy. He began summer workouts as a tight end after seeing some action at the position in high school. At the start of training camp in August, however, Valles was moved to defensive end.

Though Valles’ first experience at outside linebacker came just three weeks ago in the days leading up to the Oregon game, he has never expressed frustration about being asked to switch positions multiple times.

“I really just wanted to play where they needed me,” Valles said. “As a true freshman, you just want to come in and play and be at whatever position the coaches need to help the team out.”

Yet despite his humility, Valles is relieved to have finally found his home in Virginia’s defense.

“When I was moving around, I was going from playbook to playbook, so it was a lot,” Valles said. “I’m glad I’m at one position now.”

Valles committed to Virginia during former defensive coordinator Jim Reid’s tenure. However, the new, more aggressive defensive system implemented by current defensive coordinator John Tenuta is ideal for Valles’ abilities, particularly Tenuta’s emphasis on rushing the quarterback. Coach Mike London has been amazed by Valles’ athleticism and has nothing short of praise for the freshman.

“When Max first got here, you saw that raw ability,” London said. “As we went on, being able to stand up, the first-step burst, he’s got one of the quickest I’ve seen in a while. You start trying to put him in positions where he can accelerate his learning process and you limit what you call.”

There was never any doubt of Valles’ athletic ability. Valles had aspirations of playing college baseball until the end of his sophomore year in high school, when several college football coaches recommended he give the sport a try.

His adjustment to Division I football was expedited when Valles served as Brigham Young All-American senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy on Virginia’s scout team defense during preparation for the season opener against BYU.

“It was pretty fun playing Van Noy that week,” Valles said. “It gave me a good opportunity to go against the [starting offense], so I got to go against guys like [senior guard] Luke [Bowanko], [senior tackle] Morgan [Moses] and [sophomore tackle] Jay Whitmire all week, so it was pretty fun. It got me to know exactly what a D1 offensive lineman would be like on a day-to-day basis.”

Monday’s release of the Cavalier’s depth chart revealed that sophomore linebacker Demeitre Brim — who Valles replaced as a starter last week — has been moved to backup the weakside linebacker position held by junior Daquan Romero. The switch leaves Valles as the unquestioned starter on the strongside.

“Max is learning … how to be a linebacker,” London said. “There were some pretty athletic things he did. As we go on, his development will give him more opportunities to play.”

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