Virginia defensive end Kwakou Robinson was watching game film a few weeks ago when he came across footage of his first college game, the 2002 season opener against Colorado State. He was shocked by how bad he looked.
Thrust into the starting lineup that night because of an injury to Chris Canty, Robinson was a mess from a technical standpoint. He tired too quickly, and it was obvious he still had a lot to learn about his responsibilities in the team's 3-4 defense.
"It was crazy looking at it," Robinson said with a laugh. "Just judging myself like, 'Wow, you [stunk].' "
Thursday night against Clemson, Robinson will get a chance to show a national television audience how far he has come. Now a 6-foot-4, 315-pound junior, he again will step in for Canty, a star senior whose season ended last week because of a serious knee injury.
"He's been called upon," senior co-captain Elton Brown said.
"I'm sure he's been waiting for this moment for a long time," added Brennan Schmidt, Virginia's starting left end. "I'm just kind of waiting to see how he does on Thursday night. I have great confidence that he's going to do well."
Yet the 10th-ranked Cavaliers (4-0, 1-0 ACC) caution against talk of Robinson "replacing" Canty, who leads ACC defensive linemen with 30 tackles, including a team-high seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
"That's definitely the way I look at it," Robinson said. "I just want to be judged on what I do and not what Chris has done."
In a sense, one need only glance at the players to know they have significantly different styles. Canty is exceptionally athletic for a 6-7, 295-pound end, while Robinson has been mostly a run stopper in two-plus seasons as the third defensive end. Defensive packages that played to Canty's strengths might not work as well for his successor.
"We had structured certain things toward taking advantage of some of the things that [Canty] brought to it," Coach Al Groh said. "Now we might move away from those things. . . . We had an exceptional college playmaker who we don't have anymore, so we have to find the plays from other players or from alterations in the scheme or else the production, logically, is going to drop off."
Virginia will look elsewhere for its big defensive plays, especially to linebackers Ahmad Brooks, Darryl Blackstock, Kai Parham and Dennis Haley.
What it needs from Robinson, Groh said, is simply "solid play."
"He understands what he has to do," Brown said. "Go out and do what you've been doing. Just play ball."
Perhaps the biggest change for Robinson, a high school all-American at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, N.Y., will be playing 50 or 60 plays a game. He has been in for just 56 plays all season, making five tackles.
Since coming to Virginia he has lost at least 15 pounds, dropping his body fat percentage from 25 to 17. He admits he probably won't ever chase ball carriers 20 yards down the field, "but within 10 yards, I'm going to get you. Don't worry about it.
"I'm definitely excited to get a little more plays and see what I can really do at this level, at a starting level, and see if I can really take 60 plays and I'm up to the task."
Robinson will play mostly on the right side of Virginia's defensive line, which will put him up against Clemson's biggest offensive linemen, tackle Barry Richardson (6-7, 350) and guard Cedric Johnson (6-4, 335). Johnson, a fifth-year senior, is one of the best guards in the ACC, while Richardson is about to become the first non-redshirt freshman offensive lineman to start for the Tigers (1-3, 1-2) since 1986.
Clemson's running game should also get a boost from junior tailback Duane Coleman, who played sparingly the past two games in his first action since missing nearly two months with a broken foot. The Tigers are last in the ACC at 103 rushing yards per game, though last season they rushed for 194 yards against Virginia in a 30-27 overtime win.
Robinson, though, is adamant about his inability to replace Canty in one crucial area: entertaining the team with impromptu R&B songs during pre-practice stretching.
"Uh, no," Robinson said. "That's where me and Chris Canty differ. I don't sing. I may scream in the locker room a lot, try to get guys hyped, but no, I don't really sing, I don't really dance."
In this, too, Robinson's teammates are ready to help out.
"I will take on that role," Brown said, keeping a straight face momentarily before breaking out into a hearty laugh.
Cavaliers Note: Less than 300 tickets for Thursday's game were available as of Monday afternoon. University parking lots will open to fans at 5:30 p.m.