Kurt Pierce is a starting offensive guard for the University of Virginia football team. He isn't an All-American and Virginia isn't a good team.
Pierce, a sophomore from Georgetown Prep in Rockville, Md., is making the most of the situation.
"I'm looking for an education more in the long run than anything else. That's why I'm here," he said. "But right now, football does mean a lot to me. It might be the way to get some of the things I want out of life."
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Pierce is a pre-med major. He hops to go to dental school. "That definitely had a bearing on my coming here," he said. "It was here, Clemson or Duke."
Virginia won only one of 11 games last season when Pierce was a nonletterman froshman. The Cavaliers have lost fove of seven games this season.
Since academic tradition is far more importance than atheletic prowess at Virginia, entrance requirements are high and there is not much glamour associated with the football program. So it is difficult to get good football players to come to Charlottesville.
"Right now we look at every game as being an upset if we should win," Pierce said. "If we should beat a team like Clemson or Maryland, it would just be a bigger upset. It's really tough losing week after week, but our spirit and the coaches keep us holding on. We're doing better than we were and progress is what is important."
Where Pierce's counterparts at most, if not all, other Atlantic Coast Conference schools can concentrate on football most of the week, Pierce cannot.
"I'm thinking about the game all week, but school work is a big problem and it takes my concentration off football," he said. "The day of the game until it is over, it's all football, thought."
Pierce is taking five courses this term and there isn't a "gimme" among them. He has a psychology course, organic chemistry, an organic chemistry lab, intermediate Spanish and an education course, entitled School and Society.
"It takes a lot of studying and a lot of time outside the classroom," Pierce said.
He misses practice every Thursday because of the chemistry lab. The Cavaliers don't even practice until 7 p.m. on Mondays because so many players have labs that day, but Pierce's lab wasn't available then and he needs the course.
Pierce also is devoutly religious. He attends St. Thomas Catholic Church for the 10 a.m. service every Sunday. He also attends Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting every Tuesday from 9 to 11 p.m. IT breaks up his study routine, "but I feel that helps as much as studying does," he says.
Pierce describes himself as "a hardworking student. I'm not super intelligent. I've got a 3.0 grade point average. It is hard to keep up here somethimes, though."
When it comes to football Pierce says, "I consider myself very good for my age (19). I have a lot of time to develop. I'm grateful to be starting as a sophomore."
On Saturday, Oct. 14, Virginia played Clemson at Scott Stadium. It was typical game day for Pierce and the Caveliers - in routine as well as in the outcome. Here is how it went. BEFORE THE GAME
At 4 p.m. Friday, the team got together and watched films of past Clemson games until 5:30. Then the players took a bus to a local restaurant, Aberdeen Barn, for dinner. After the meal they went to a theater and saw Richard Dreyfuss in "The Big Fix".
The Clemson team was at the same movie.
At 10 p.m, the team had a snack with Coach Dick Bestwick at the Cavalier Inn, where the team stays the night before all home games.
Lights were out at 11 p.m. GAME DAY
The wake-up call comes at 8:45. BReakfast is at 9. There is a special teams meeting a 9:15, btu since Pierce doesn't play on any of them, he sleeps an extra 15 minutes.
Breakfast consists of steak, Scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice and pancakes. Pierce skips the pancakes.
"I just don't like to eat those before a game," he says.
At 10, the offense and defense meet in separate rooms. Bestwick comes to talk to the offensive players first.
Today we ahve the chance to be the first team to move the ball and score on Clemson," he said. "I think we will."
The backs and receivers then go to their individual position meeting in other rooms and the 12 offensive linemen who are to dress for the game remain with Jack Daniels, the line coach.
Daniels leans forward and says, "It's all up to you guys, because frankly, you know we don't throw the ball very well. The best way for us to get on the scoreboard against these guys is north and south (football talk meaning go straight ahead without a lot of wide, fancy plays) - go right at them. It's GATA time - get after their ass."
Daniels then goes over the game plan and the audibles the Cavaliers will use. When he asks for questions, there aren't many. The meeting ends at 10:30.
Pierce goes back to his fifth-floor room. He takes the stairs because the previous week the elevator got stuck between floors with him on it.
From 10:30 to 11:30, Pierce sits on his bed reading a tattered Bible. He also glances through his playbook. Cartoons are being shown on television, but he seldom looks at it.
The buses leave for Scott Stadium at 11:30. The offense gets in the first bus, the defense the second. It is a five-minute ride to the stadium. There are complaints that the bus smells like kitty litter.
Pierce gets both ankles tapes and a knee wrapped. He also wraps his elbows to keep them from getting skinned on the artificial surface.
He is through getting taped by 11:45. He sits on a stool in front of his cubicle and flips through the game program. When anyone speaks, it is in a low tone. There is no horsing around and no music.
The linemen have until 12:55 to get dressed. Most of them use the time to get mentally ready, mostly through individual meditation.
As 12:55 approaches, the team lines up to take the field for the pregame warmups. Pierce is near the front. He is in full gear now. Both hands are wrapped and he is wearing a neck collar. He fastens his chin strap and the Cavaliers take the field.
Five minutes later Clemson comes out of its dressing room.
"It's gonna be a field day," one Clemson player says. THE GAME
On the first play from scrimmage for Virginia, Pierce moves his man three yards off the line with a crunching block. Practically no one else blocks, through, and the play barely gains one yard.
Three downs later, the Cavaliers are punting. On its first play from scrimmage, Clemson runs an option and tailback Lester Brown takes a pitchout and goes 59 yards for a touchdown.
Pierce had hardly sat down on the bench and taken his helmet off when it was time to go back in.
Later in the first period, Virginia runs a new play called a hand back and Greg Taylor runs 22 yards with it to the Clemson five.
A pass interfence call in the end zone gives Virginia a first down at the one.
In the huddle, quarter-back Mickey Spady calls a "35 area." The play goes over Pierce. It works and Virginia scores.
"I hit the guard to my inside with my inside shoulder and then I go after the linebacker," Pierce said. "It was a good play."
After one series when Virginia gained no yards, center Brian Musselman gets an idea. He sees that the Clemson linebackers are running straight to the outside on almost every play and the Virginia guards can't catch up to them to block them. Instead of chasing them, Mussleman tells Pierce to help him or the tackle double-team a Clemson lineman. At least that way the play will gain a couple of yards.
They try it that way the next series and it works.
Meanwhile, Daniels is like a fight trainer between rounds, trying to keep his man on his feet. He knows his man is going to lose a decision, but he wants to avoid a knockout.
Spady comes over while Daniels is trying to fire up his players and says, "They're getting too much pemetration. You've got to do something."
"I know. I know," says Daniels.
Pierce sits out one series in the first half, but is back the next one.
Later, with the third units in for both teams, the Cavaliers score again near the end of the game and lose 30-40.
Pierce sat out the last few series of the game, spending most of that time nerviously pacing the sidelines.
"I really thought going into the second half the game was ours just as much as theirs," he said, even though Clemson was ahead, 23-7, at the time.
"We were doing most of what the coaches told us to do, but there were just a few breakdowns and that's what hurt us," Pierce said.
The Cavaliers never quit, but every time Pierce came off the field, he seemed slower and more frustrated. Clemson simply was too big, too strong, too fast and too good.
In the dressing room, Bestwick told his team how proud he was, despite the score.
"You did everything we asked of you," he said. "If you hadn't we would have lost 66-0."
The players undressed and showered quickly and quietly. AFTER THE GAME
Mary Ann and Dean Pierce, Kurt's parents, have driven from Rockville to see the game, as they do for every home game. They, and Pierce's girlfriend Lynn Garst are waiting outside the dressing room.
His father hugs Pierce. His mother puts her arms around his neck and kisses him and then just looks at him. His girlfriend stands in the background and waves. Pierce comes over and hugs her.
They go out to eat seafood and at about 7:30, his parents head home.
Pierce is exhausted. He and Garst go to her apartment to relax and at about 10 o'clock, she fixes him spaghetti.
"I get enough steak during the week," he says.
Later in the evening they go to Pavilio XI, a bar with live music. There is standing-room only. They don't stay long and there isn't much talk about the game. Most Virginia sports buffs would rather talk about basketball.
Pierce is back at his apartment by 1 o'clock. He get up at 9 Sunday to go to church and then he has to be at the practice field at 5 Sunday afternoon.
"By Tuesday I'll be physically recovered from the game," Pierce said. "And then it'll be time to start all overagain."