Virginia Tech's Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is fine with reduced role

Virginia Tech linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow intercepts a fourth-quarter pass in a 19-0 victory over Boston College in September.
Virginia Tech linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow intercepts a fourth-quarter pass in a 19-0 victory over Boston College in September. (Matt Gentry/the Roanoke Times)
By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 12:12 AM

BLACKSBURG, VA. - He was away from the action on the sideline Nov. 4, watching Georgia Tech's methodical option offense move the ball. But more important to Virginia Tech linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow was his proximity to defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

He stood as close to his coach as possible, patiently waiting his turn, hoping maybe his nearby presence would persuade Foster to put him in the game. But Gouveia-Winslow, a third-year sophomore, would only see the field for one defensive play on that Thursday night, continuing a pattern that began three weeks ago against Duke when he played just two defensive snaps.

"My history, I've always been the stud on the football team, playing and making plays," said Gouveia-Winslow, the 2007 All-Met defensive player of the year after leading Stone Bridge to a Virginia state championship. "But I've also always been on the winning team, so as long as we keep winning, I'm happy. Obviously I'd like to play more, but the team has been rolling right now."

Gouveia-Winslow began this season as the starting whip linebacker, replacing current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Cody Grimm. But he struggled in his new role as the Hokies lost their first two games of this season and has steadily seen his playing time decrease. Foster has chosen to sit Gouveia-Winslow in favor of another defensive back.

While personnel changes are one reason Virginia Tech will take on North Carolina Saturday with a chance to clinch the ACC's Coastal Division, it is Gouveia-Winslow's attitude about the whole situation that has come to define why the Hokies are riding a seven-game winning streak, the longest in division I-A aside from the nation's four remaining unbeaten teams.

"He's a smart guy, he understands football, he understands what we're trying to get done," Hokies Coach Frank Beamer said of Gouveia-Winslow, who has 25 tackles this season. "And he's just an unselfish guy. I think our team's made up of a bunch of those guys - 'It's not my stats, it's what can I do to help this football team win,' and you certainly appreciate that. That probably goes back to why we've been able to come back from two tough losses."

Even Gouveia-Winslow realizes why he's been demoted, because it's often "a better matchup when a DB is on faster receivers." It's this inability to hold grudges that has served him well this season, and in life.

His father is former Washington Redskins linebacker Kurt Gouveia. But as a child growing up in Ashburn, Gouveia-Winslow had no relationship with him. The two reconnected when Gouveia-Winslow arrived at Virginia Tech more than two years ago, and though the father-son relationship is still developing, they've forged a bond over football.

"He calls me after the games all the time," Gouveia-Winslow said. "He knows football well. He watches and he sees me and earlier after the [James Madison] game, when I missed five tackles, obviously he had something to say. 'You gotta tackle with your feet, tackle with your chest, run through,' and he was right."

Kurt Gouveia did not return several messages seeking comment for this story. But according to Gouveia-Winslow's mother, Loree Winslow, Gouveia chose not to be a part of Jeron's life growing up. As a result, she's wary of what influence he may have on her son. She raised Jeron and his biological older brother Landon with their stepfather, Tommy Winslow, among a blended family of 10.

Gouveia-Winslow was not yet 2 when Gouveia had an interception in the Redskins' victory over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI. He doesn't remember his father as a player and said questions from outsiders curious about his football genes never bothered him. It's in his nature to simply move on.

"He just has that personality, out of all my kids, he's the one who's always happy," Loree Winslow said. "With the lack of playing time, it doesn't seem to bother him as much as it bothers his siblings or his family. They're like, 'What's up with Jeron?' I ask him what he thinks and he just says: 'It's just the game, it's just the way it is here. When you do well, you get to play. When you don't do well, you don't get to play.' "

Coaches and teammates alike believe the player affectionately known as "Gouv" will eventually become a force on Virginia Tech's defense. Cornerback Rashad Carmichael has become a mentor of sorts for Gouveia-Winslow, and on several occasions he has talked about some of the jaw-dropping plays the linebacker makes in practice.

But other than a diving interception against Boston College this season, it hasn't yet translated to a game situation. Beamer did say, though, that Gouveia-Winslow has made a seamless transition into Grimm's role as leader of the punt unit, high praise in a program that values special teams so much.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign is the new perspective Gouveia-Winslow now has on just how small the margin of error can be in college football.

"In high school you can run around and the athletes show and make plays. But you can't do that here," he said. "If you make a mistake, these kids are good enough that they'll find it and hurt you. It's not like I'm learning anything new about the schemes on defense or offense because I know what to do. I just gotta make that play and make that tackle."

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