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Shelving trombone, Cain takes up tackle

Walk-on sees first start against TCU in place of injured B.J. Cabbell, moonlights as UTS bus driver in offseason

Five years ago as a sophomore in high school, Isaac Cain was suited up and ready to take the field for Hampton - in the marching band, that is, playing the trombone. Now, as a junior at Virginia, he assumes a very different role on the football field.

"I haven't seen that [trombone] in a long time," Cain said.

Saturday's game against No. 16 Texas Christian University marked the first start of Cain's career, filling in for injured junior guard B.J. Cabbell. But the road to that special moment was unorthodox, to say the least.

Cain was essentially ordered to play football as a junior in high school.

"Coach Mann just told me, 'you're big, and I'm gonna have you play football for our team,'" Cain said.

After playing just two years of high school football, Cain was ready to sign with Norfolk State. A week before signing day, however, coach Al Groh asked Cain to come visit Virginia. And that's all she wrote.

"It was a pretty rough start," Cain said, referring to the rigorous conditioning program he underwent after joining the team. "I just knew it wasn't gonna click and I was gonna take whatever they threw at me."

But after serving two years as a walk-on, Groh finally 'threw' Cain a scholarship before the 2009 season. But the financial bonus did not changed Cain's mentality.

"As far as football goes, it doesn't mean anything," Cain said. "It just means a little less responsibility for my parents financially."

Indeed, Cain was very much a part of the team even before he was awarded the scholarship and given significant playing time. In addition to offseason workouts, Cain forged bonds with his teammates in a more unconventional way. During the summers of his freshman and sophomore years, Cain drove a University Transit bus - the Green route, to be specific - four days a week, sometimes picking up fellow football players.

"At first they were kind of shocked," Cain said. "But now it's kind of normal."

He even drove his teammates to "Meet the Team Day" last year.

"It's pretty different [from driving a car]," Cain said. "It was pretty intense training. You've just got to learn you can't see a third of your bus; you can't see what's around you."

Cain's job description offers an interesting metaphor for Virginia's offensive line. After the Cavaliers incurred eight sacks against TCU, it could be argued that the line couldn't "see what was around" it.

"Obviously we're pretty ticked off about that," Cain said. "It's a combination of some physically getting beat, and some is just mental errors."

The letdown on pass protection against TCU is just the most recent instance of Virginia's struggles operating in the new spread offense.

"Yeah, of course we all thought we'd succeed," Cain said. "It is stifling. We just got to keep working at it."

Groh insists the offensive line's mistakes are independent of any system, however.

"Those things really aren't scheme-related," Groh said. "It doesn't make any difference whether your scheme is called. That's just individual execution in those circumstances."

Although the TCU defensive line - led by 2008 All-American left end Jerry Hughes - probably deserves credit for penetrating the gaps to Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell, Cain did not shirk responsibility for the breakdown in pass protection.

"It just comes down to the small things," Cain said. "You have got to be uncommonly good at common things"

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