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The all-time offensive lineup behind Cavalier football

Archives, records and awards led to an examination of the most prolific offensive players at the University, with NFL considerations making the case even more difficult

<p>Running back Tiki Barber was best known for his quick feet and uncanny ability to catch the ball — something not every running back can do.</p>

Running back Tiki Barber was best known for his quick feet and uncanny ability to catch the ball — something not every running back can do.

As this year’s Homecomings game looms, let’s examine the players that laid the foundation for Virginia football and contributed immensely to the success of the program. Here’s an “All-Time Virginia Offense” through an assessment of historical archives and a consideration of NFL careers, highlighting some older players who left a legacy in Charlottesville. There will be some omissions and a lack of eyewitness testimony to many of these players. I admit, I did not live through the George Welsh era and do not remember much of Al Groh. However, this is an honest attempt at paying homage to those who put the Cavaliers on the national map — as a disclaimer, this list begins after 1980 to ensure that there’s access to records and awards.

Quarterback: Shawn Moore (1987-90)

I had an extremely hard time deciding between recent Cavalier great Bryce Perkins and past offensive maestro Shawn Moore. Also, I found it difficult to overlook quarterback Matt Schaub’s illustrious career for both the Cavaliers and the Houston Texans of the NFL. Regardless of the debate, I settled on the former Heisman finalist and catalyst of some uber-talented Virginia teams. Moore is best known for his dominating 1990 season, in which the Cavaliers held a 7-0 record before falling to 8-4 by the end of the year.

Let it be known that Moore missed two games that season — both losing efforts — and nearly defeated the co-national champion Georgia Tech in a 41-38 shootout. Assisted by wide receiver Herman Moore — no relation — and running back Terry Kirby, the quarterback threw for 2,262 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for eight scores. A loss in the Sugar Bowl to No. 10 Tennessee ultimately marred a brilliant season for Moore, but he cemented his legacy in Charlottesville by returning the Cavaliers to an elite level of play.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (1993-96) and Thomas Jones (1996-99)

Virginia football history tells us that no positional group has been more prolific than that of the running back. Surely enough, the two above leave little doubt for this claim. Beginning with Barber, the first of the two backs left Charlottesville as the career leader in rushing yards with 3,389. Oh, and Jones would be the one who toppled his record only four years later, finishing a four-year career with 3,998 yards. Barber also carried on his successes to the NFL stage and finished his tenure as the all-time rushing leader for the New York Giants. With three Pro-Bowl appearances and one spot on the First Team All-Pro list, Barber had a pretty darn good professional resumé. 

Jones, the successor of Barber, wasn’t too shabby either as a pro. A First-Team All-American at Virginia and a one-time Pro-Bowler in the NFL — Jones now finds himself at No. 26 in all-time NFL career rushing yards. Barber, of course, is No. 27. However, these professional figures shouldn’t overshadow the collegiate successes of these two players. Their eight years in Charlottesville would not be replicated by any other Virginia back, and their records seem to stand unopposed for now.

Wide Receivers: Herman Moore (1998-90) and Billy McMullen (1999-02)

Albeit No. 3 in career receiving yards at Virginia, Herman Moore has been the most dynamic wide receiver to ever step foot on Grounds. The three-year starter for the Cavaliers who played alongside the aforementioned Shawn Moore dominated competition and earned First-Team All-American honors in 1990. Drafted 10th overall to the Lions in 1991, Moore continued his tear through the NFL with three Pro-Bowl nods and one year on the First-Team All-Pro list. After 12 seasons, Moore still stands as 60th in all-time NFL career receiving yards. 

McMullen shared less of Moore’s NFL greatness, yet dazzled as Virginia’s primary receiver for four straight years. He led the ACC in receiving yards his junior season and stands atop Virginia’s list of career receiving yards leaders. Almost a decade apart, Moore and McMullen complemented the stellar run game of the Cavaliers and have remained in the annals of Virginia football.

Tight End: Heath Miller (2002-04)

HEEEAATTHHHH. Roars of the Cavalier’s name have reverberated throughout Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before going on to becoming a decorated tight end in the pros, Miller took the college level by storm, leading the Cavaliers in receiving two years in a row as a tight end — a feat that does not happen often. Miller, a First-Team All-American in 2004, benefited from a connection with quarterback Matt Schaub and proved himself to be a top prospect for the NFL. The first-round pick to the Steelers did not disappoint in his 11 years in Pittsburgh, garnering two Pro-Bowl honors and helping his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2008. The greatest tight end in Cavalier history is now 14th in NFL career receiving yards by a tight end. 

Offensive Tackles: D’Brickashaw Ferguson (2002-05) and Jim Dombrowski (1982-85)

Offensive Guards: Elton Brown (2001-04) and Noel LaMontagne (1996-99)

Center: John St. Clair (1996-99)

D’Brickashaw Ferguson flexed his athletic versatility while at the University. A smaller left tackle who also played linebacker in rare defensive schemes, Ferguson was named to the All-ACC First Team two consecutive times and ended his career as a First Team All-American. Professionally, the New York native heard his name called by the Jets fourth in the 2006 NFL Draft and finished his 10-year career with three Pro-Bowl nods. Here is the craziest part about Ferguson’s time in the NFL — he played in 10,707 out of a possible 10,708 offensive snaps as a Jet. The consistent tackle at Virginia never missed a game at the next level and garnered further acclaim even after leaving the Cavaliers.

The four other offensive linemen on this list combined for four First-Team All-America nods, seven First-Team All-ACC spots and four retired jerseys. LaMontagne, in fact, had three First Team All-ACC bids all to himself. Dombrowski was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and started in 137 games for the New Orleans Saints across 11 years. St. Clair carved out an 11-year career as a professional and started 79 games himself. Brown did not have longevity in the league, yet he still remains one of Virginia’s most revered offensive guards.

Those who just missed the cut include QB Bryce Perkins (2018-19), QB Matt Schaub (2000-03), RB Terry Kirby (1989-92), WR Olamide Zaccheaus (2015-18), G Mark Dixon (1990-93), G Branden Albert (2005-07) and T Eugene Monroe (2005-08).

Ok, so now I have had my room to speak. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to reach into Virginia football’s history and bring out some names that I hadn’t heard in a long time. I grew up watching Cavalier games as a kid, idolizing those such as running back Perry Jones, safety Quin Blanding and, if we retrace our steps even further, quarterback Jameel Sewell. Some of the guys mentioned above laid the foundation and made Cavalier football what it is today. While I will still wrestle with Shawn Moore versus Bryce Perkins — has to be recency bias, right? — I hope that I’ve done justice to some of the offensive pioneers of Virginia.

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