-- Tailback Wali Lundy is one of only three University of Virginia players to run for 800 yards or more in three seasons. He has scored 41 touchdowns during his career, third-most among active college football players and ninth in ACC history. He scored nine times in the Cavaliers' first three games last season and was being mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate during his team's fast start.
So when Lundy was seemingly cast aside during the latter part of the 2004 season, when Alvin Pearman was getting the majority of carries and becoming one of the best running backs in the country, Cavaliers fans collectively asked, "Where's Wali?" With Pearman averaging 27 carries during Virginia's last five regular season games, Lundy was more difficult to find than the children's book character that wears black-rimmed glasses, a funny hat and red-and-white striped sweater.
Was Coach Al Groh upset with Lundy because he fumbled at critical times against Clemson and Virginia Tech? Was Lundy's pass blocking not up to snuff? Was he not taking care of business off the field? Groh insists he had no problems with Lundy last season and has gone out of his way to defend the player during the preseason this year.
"It's like, 'Hey, Wali Lundy is back,' " Groh said. "So everybody likes Wali Lundy. Wali Lundy never went anyplace. There was never any problem with Wali, other than some games he missed because of injury. We happened to have a guy who got very hot for us last year and did a real good job for us."
Pearman, who was picked in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in April's NFL draft, averaged nearly 150 rushing yards during the Cavaliers' last five regular season games in 2004. In a 37-16 victory at Duke, Pearman ran 38 times for 223 yards, one yard shy of the school record set by John Papit against Washington & Lee in 1948. Pearman had 31 carries against Maryland, 21 against Miami and 28 against Virginia Tech.
Lundy, 5 feet 10 and 214 pounds, ran 10 times or fewer in games against Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. He gained only nine yards on four carries in a 24-10 loss to the Hokies, his lowest rushing total since the ninth game of his freshman season in 2002.
Groh said Lundy's lack of opportunity wasn't as much about what he wasn't doing as what Pearman was doing.
"If it was a basketball team and Wali was the starting four, and we told the other guy he was going to go in at the seven-minute mark and he suddenly hit four straight three-pointers and kept hitting them all year long, you'd have to be fairly foolish to say we're going to the way things were," Groh said. "That's the only situation that occurred there."
Lundy, who turns 22 next month, is used to overcoming obstacles. He grew up in a housing project in the outskirts of Philadelphia. His father, Brian Lundy, was in and out of jail and died of a stroke when Wali was 3. His mother, Joann Lundy, died of breast cancer three years later. After his mother died, Lundy's grandparents, Etta and Frank Davis, sold their retirement home in Florida and moved back to Philadelphia to raise their four grandsons, none of whom had even started high school yet.
"It was tough, but I was really young when it happened," Lundy said. "It's part of life. It's something that made me stronger and made me the person I am today."
Lundy's grandparents bought a house in nearby Burlington Township, N.J., which had safer streets and fewer temptations for their grandsons. They had three rules in their home: Their grandsons went to school, attended church every Sunday and played sports to keep them out of trouble. Lundy's oldest brother, Shaheed, graduated from Rutgers. His other brothers, Jamaal and Mikal, played college football and graduated from Connecticut and Towson, respectively.
Lundy, who nearly died of an intestinal disorder when he was in eighth grade, credits his grandmother, now 76, for raising him and his brothers the right way. His grandfather died of complications from heart surgery in 1989.
"She's a strong woman," Lundy said. "She made our family what it is. Without her, I don't know where we'd all be."
Lundy said he never moped or complained about his reduced playing time last season because his grandmother, whom he affectionately calls "Bis Mama," and his older brothers wouldn't have approved.
"I was playing well," Lundy said. "I wasn't going to be frustrated when we were winning games. It was a coach's decision, and Alvin was playing really well. That's how it was explained to me. I'm going to be the same person whether I'm in the game or not."
Groh said he never lost confidence in Lundy, despite two flagrant gaffes last season. Against Clemson on Oct. 7, the Cavaliers led 13-10 early in the third quarter and seemed to be driving for another touchdown. Lundy appeared to pick up a first down at the Tigers 6-yard line, but then he fumbled and Clemson recovered. Pearman took over on Virginia's next possession and Lundy never went back into the game as the Cavaliers won easily, 30-10.
Lundy's fumble against Virginia Tech in the regular season finale is still a play that haunts him and his coach. Late in the first quarter, after Pearman's 78-yard run, the Cavaliers seemed to be driving for the game's first score. Pearman was winded, so Lundy went into the game to relieve him. Lundy gained six yards on each of his first two carries to move inside the Hokies 10. But on first and goal, Lundy didn't take a handoff from quarterback Marques Hagans cleanly, and Hokies defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis recovered the fumble. Virginia Tech hammered the Cavaliers and won the ACC championship by beating Miami the following week.
"There were a lot of big games I fumbled in and people noticed, so I was considered a fumbler," Lundy said. "I'm not a fumbler."
Actually, Lundy has fumbled only three times in 598 carries during his three-year career. The last two fumbles just came at bad times.
"I want to clear up a couple of misconceptions about Wali -- one, that he has a fumbling problem and two, that he was in the doghouse, which we don't have," Groh said. "He lost two fumbles in three years, so he obviously doesn't have a fumbling problem."
With Pearman playing in the NFL, Lundy figures to get the majority of carries for the Cavaliers this season. He is close to earning his degree in sociology and recently received an academic scholarship from the Virginia Athletics Foundation.
"We've been very pleased with everything Wali Lundy has done since he's been here," Groh said. "He's a non-maintenance player. He's ready for class, he's ready for the weight room, he's ready for practice and he's ready for the games. He's very purposeful. He's a very versatile player. He's a reliable receiver. He's one of our most knowledgeable and effective backs in pass protection. Most guys who have been in as many games as Wali has are graduated now. He has a lot of experience."