-- Like most of Virginia's celebrated freshman class, offensive left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson arrived with the expectation he would get a chance to play at some point this season. He never expected this.
When Ferguson takes the field in Charlotte on Saturday for the Continental Tire Bowl against No. 15 West Virginia, he will become the first Virginia offensive lineman to start 14 games in a season. He estimates he has played all but five or six of the Cavaliers' offensive downs this season.
"I thought maybe I'd have an opportunity to get some plays, but never just to take over and play like that," said Ferguson, who was the first Virginia freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener. After training camp, the coaches "just came up front and let me know the deal, that I was going to play left tackle for the season. That was definitely a surprise."
Virginia Coach Al Groh had been considering that scenario since Ferguson signed with the Cavaliers in February. He said he expected Ferguson's ascent to the starting lineup would be a question of when, not if.
"A new challenge finds him every week, something he hasn't encountered before, but he's got very good poise about him," Groh said. "He doesn't let it shake him. He deals with it and seems to eventually get it solved."
Ferguson's talent is no secret to West Virginia.
"We knew when [Virginia] signed him they had signed a good one," said Coach Rich Rodriguez, who briefly recruited Ferguson for the Mountaineers. "Now he's proving that by starting, which is amazing. It's amazing to start at any position as a true freshman, but especially up front. Obviously he's going to have a great career for them. He's an outstanding player."
Ferguson's play this season earned him a spot on the freshman all-American teams of the Sporting News and CollegeFootballNews.com. At 6 feet 5 and a shade over 260 pounds, the 19-year-old out of Freeport (N.Y.) High School looks more like an athletic tight end than a lineman. But he has excellent quickness with his hands and feet, honed by years of practicing martial arts, giving him what Groh called "the ability to get in front and stay in front" of defenders.
"I've learned that if you use the correct technique, no matter how big the person is, you'll be able to become successful," Ferguson said. "But you have to be very consistent with your technique. When that fails, you will fail too."
It helps to have an 87-inch wingspan. When Ferguson rests his hands on his hips, he ends up placing them somewhere around mid-thigh.
"Those things are ridiculous. Dude's got, like, eight-foot-long arms," joked left guard Brian Barthelmes, a 6-7 redshirt freshman.
On Saturday at Ericsson Stadium, the Cavaliers' starting offensive line -- including tight end Heath Miller -- will consist of two freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and two sophomores. (Fifth-year right tackle Mike Mullins will not play after having back surgery this week.) But Ferguson, like his linemates, has not been fazed by being thrown into the fire so quickly.
"He's a goal setter," explained his father, Edwin. "He says, 'I've got a job to do and that's what I'm expected to do.' I don't think he pays much attention to the fact that he's moving from high school to the college level."
Ferguson said he tries to focus on his performance on individual plays, not on entire games, and that commitment is reflected in his demeanor on the field.
"He's enthusiastic about what he does, but he doesn't really show it," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "He stays calm and relaxed and doesn't get overanxious too much."
Growing up on Long Island, Ferguson and his older brother, Edwin Jr., who graduated from U-Va. in May, learned about discipline and focus through martial arts. The boys attained first-degree black belts in karate, following the example of their parents, who are second-degree black belts.
"We've always done things together as a family," said Edwin Sr., who runs his own karate school. "Way back, I saw the martial arts as a discipline that would help us stay together. It teaches a sense of unselfishness."