Since coming to Virginia, lineman John Choma has seen the Cavaliers win 11 games and lose 33. Because he stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 255 pounds, the misfortunes have been particularly troublesome for him.

"I stand out, even during games, just because I'm so big," he said. "Somehow, I've always felt more responsible. This has been tough both mentally and physically. You see the looks in peoples eyes, you hear the jokes, you live through those atrocious scores. It's hard."

And what does he see in people's eyes?

"A mirror reflection, I guess," he said with a laugh. "I mean, why? Why have I gone through all this and got no benefit from it."

Yet Choma, who already has been at Virginia four years after redshirting one season, decided to return for one more try, knowing that prospects for a winning record were not good. And that the jokes about the lousy Cavalier teams probably would continue.

"I ask myself why I'm back lots of times," he said. "With each coach we've had here, all three of them, my spirit has been reborn. I've felt encouraged every time. But I really can't explain why I'm here, expect that when I came here, I committed myself to helping this program."

Choma was recruited out of high school in Parma, Ohio. The likes of Ohio State wanted him until he told them he didn't want to go to a football factory. When he was told Virginia was a loser, he would reply that his high school was, too, until his senior year when he was part of its first winning season ever.

"I found out then that there is no spell that makes a team a loser," he said. "There is no reason why Virginia can't win. Even when I was confused by what was happening here. I've always thought that things could be changed."

Choma is the last of the athletes recruited by Don Lawrence, who was the head coach before Randle, who was replaced last year by Dick Bestwick. He also is the team's only pro prospect, a fine-looking offensive tackle who has yet to play up to his potential.

"I can't bank on the pros, not after what's happened here," he said. "So I'm going to get my master's and be able to teach handicapped kids. If the pros don't work out, I'll have something to turn to."

There aren't similar rooting alternatives for many Virginia football fans. "They have just one team to cheer for," Choma said. "A lot of people have put their hearts in this program and got them broken. Now they stand on the sideline and they are afraid to roor.

"I guess sometimes the good guys don't win, after all."