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Linebacker doles out final Thweatt pops

Plenty of guys in his shoes would be more than content, but Byron Thweatt is decidedly frustrated.

The senior outside linebacker leads Virginia in tackles as he rides down the home stretch of an exceptional collegiate career, but none of that matters much to him. All he cares about is a bowl trip and the famed seven-win plateau, both of which hang in limbo right now.

With just two regular season games left, the Cavaliers (5-4, 4-3 ACC) need one win to become bowl eligible and two to extend their streak of seven-win seasons to 14. Thweatt, the emotional leader of the defense, knows it's clear what's at stake.

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    "It's put up or shut up," said Thweatt, one of Virginia's four captains. "We have two ballgames left and we're not bowl eligible yet. We've got to do something to have some dignity this year."

    Thweatt has been a model of consistency for an erratic defense ranked sixth in total yards in the ACC. The outside linebacker has made 107 tackles this season, including 68 solo ones, to lead the team in both categories. Standing at fifth place in school history with 369 career tackles, he has led the team in tackles in six different games this season, playing extremely well even when the defense around him sagged.

    Two weeks ago, Thweatt garnered a career-high 19 tackles while leading the Cavs in their best defensive performance of the season, a 17-6 win over North Carolina. In Thursday's 35-0 loss at Georgia Tech, the Cavs gave up five touchdowns in one of their worst defensive showings of the year, yet Thweatt proceeded to top his personal best with 21 more tackles.

    "If I make a lot of tackles, that doesn't affect me if we're losing," Thweatt said.

    Besides the impressive numbers, Thweatt's most valuable gift to the program over the last four years might be his exemplary work ethic. He has fought through nagging injuries to start in every game of his Cav career - a tremendous and rare accomplishment in college football. With an easy-going demeanor, he comes across as the stereotypical "leader by example." And that's exactly what he is.

    "I talk when it's time to talk," Thweatt said. "But I'm not a rah-rah guy. If I make a play, everyone sees it and they say, 'Okay, Thweatt's out there giving it up, we're going to give it up too.'"

    Starting fullback Patrick Washington, agreed that he and Thweatt, who are joined by Yubrenal Isabelle and Brad Barnes as captains this year, are the quiet ones.

    "We [captains] bring different styles of leadership," Washington said. "Some of the other guys are more vocal."

    As one of the more underrated linebackers in the nation, Thweatt has good reason to listen for his name at the NFL Draft in April.

    The NFL "is my whole motivation for playing at the collegiate level," Thweatt said. "I think I might have a shot, but you never know. The way we've been coached, it prepares you for the NFL. Every linebacker I've played beside has gone. Hopefully I can be the next one."

    But for now, Thweatt has his eyes set on Saturday's game. He has helped lead Virginia to three winning seasons and two bowl games, but Thweatt said he doesn't want to be "the senior that doesn't get seven wins."

    "It's my last home game, and I'm going to go out and give it everything I've got," Thweatt said. "Hopefully the other fifth years and fourth years will do the same"

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