The pass rush, one of Virginia's weaknesses, will receive a welcome addition when senior defensive tackle Jim Hyson returns to action in Saturday's home opener against James Madison.
Hyson, 6 feet 3 and 242 pounds, had surgery on his left knee in January but the knee was reinjured in a scrimmage Sept. 2, forcing him to watch the opener against Navy.
"I kind of felt left out," said Hyson, a Maryland native. "There were a ton of people there to see me and I would have liked to get in. I was supposed to go in for the pass rush if we'd used the nickel defense, but we never went to it and I never played.
"Coach (George) Welsh told me he didn't want to take a chance of making it worse. Now I've practiced all week and with that extra rest I feel good."
Hyson, who led Virginia in sacks last year with 11, had a brilliant scholastic career at Francis Scott Key High in Union Bridge, Md., near the Pennsylvania border. He was a fullback and defensive tackle, won state Class B shot put and discus titles and was state heavyweight wrestling champion in the days when all four groups competed in one tournament.
Still, he received only two scholarship offers, from VMI and Virginia.
"Maryland didn't recruit me, but I guess they never heard of me," Hyson said. "It was a small school . . . Somehow, UVA got hold of film I was in and offered me a scholarship late in February."
Hyson's first season, 1978, was not a good one as the Cavaliers went 2-9 and he was redshirted following an early season ankle injury.
In 1979, Hyson, then a linebacker, ran an intercepted pass 56 yards for a touchdown in a 30-12 victory over Duke. Virginia went 6-5, its only winning season in the last 13.
"When I came here, there was a lot of enthusiasm and everybody felt we were on the verge of turning things around," Hyson said. "When we went 6-5, we were positive we'd turned the corner."
They hadn't, of course. When Hyson's left knee buckled in the eighth game last year, against VMI, it effectively spoiled what would have been a celebration of the Cavaliers' only victory.
"I think a lot of the young guys were surprised at how well they played last week," Hyson said. "Coach Welsh said he wants to go 6-5 and I still think we can do it . . . guys are starting to believe again. Whether it's this year or next, I think it'll come, because if Coach Welsh can't do it here, I doubt that anybody can."