Branden Albert, a former All-County lineman and basketball center at Glen Burnie, was all smiles Saturday after his game at the University of Virginia's Scott Stadium.
The 6-foot-7, 310-pound freshman left guard was approached by several reporters interested in the way he'd manhandled Duke players in a 38-7 victory. Though winning football games is nothing new for Virginia (3-0), traditionally one of the better teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it is a pleasant change for Albert.
Albert was a top Anne Arundel County player during the 2003 season, when Glen Burnie finished 4-6. His team was 1-9 in 2002, his first year playing organized football. He played last season at Hargrave Military Academy and became academically eligible to accept the scholarship Virginia offered during his senior year.
"I never knew what it was like to be on a winning team in football that has a chance to win a championship," said Albert. "I always hoped this day would come, but it wasn't until I got here that it finally hit me that I was playing in one of the best conferences in the country."
Albert has some experience winning games, but it's on the basketball court, where he led Glen Burnie to the semifinals of the 4A tournament in 2003 and 2004. Albert has since traded his high-top sneakers and baggy shorts for cleats and shoulder pads and was a starter in the Cavaliers' first three games.
"It was a tough choice, but I feel I made the right one because I have more of a future playing football," Albert said. "I like being physical and the challenge of going one-on-one with the person in front of me and making sure he doesn't make the tackle."
Albert is the only freshman to start on offense this season. He plays next to left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound senior who is expected to be a top 10 selection in next year's National Football League Draft.
Albert has been a key component on an offensive line that has enabled Virginia to average 393.3 yards of total offense entering Saturday's game at Maryland (2-2).
Against Duke, the offensive line paved the way for the Cavaliers to rush for 110 yards on 35 carries and gave senior quarterback Marques Hagans time to throw for 174 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 13-of-21 passing.
"Our offensive line was great [against Duke]. They gave me time to read the defense and do what we needed to do to put points on the board," Hagans said. "Brandon is a big part of our line, and he's still young, so by the time he's a senior, there's no telling how good he'll be."