CHARLOTTESVILLE — “I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can.”
Those are the first words etched on the tombstone of Duane Allman, the Allman Brothers Band co-founder who died in a 1971 motorcycle accident. They also serve as a mantra of sorts for Virginia defensive tackle Brent Urban, a classic rock enthusiast who was so inspired by his favorite musician that he spent 10 hours at a tattoo parlor having Allman’s entire 45-word epitaph — along with a Les Paul guitar — inked down the length of his left forearm.
This, it seems, was just the latest quirk for a player who concedes “you kind of don’t know what to expect with me off the field.”
“He’s definitely a character . . . a goofball,” fellow defensive tackle David Dean said.
Urban’s self-admitted laid-back attitude has irked some during his time on campus — “There’s some fire in him, [but] you wish you could get a little bit more out of him,” defensive line coach Vincent Brown said this week — but most have high hopes about what he could become on the football field in the coming years.
Over the past year, the fifth-year senior has morphed into Virginia’s best 2014 NFL draft prospect. As the Cavaliers prepared to face Virginia Military Institute on Saturday, Coach Mike London said every pro scout who has been through Charlottesville in recent months left talking about how impressive Urban looked.
But perhaps more important for the Cavaliers, some of that potential has started to show up on Saturdays. Though he has no sacks and just seven tackles through two games this season, Urban has more pass break-ups (four) than any other defensive lineman in the country. He even stood out in Virginia’s 59-10 loss to No. 2 Oregon on Sept. 7, single-handedly stopping Ducks running back Byron Marshall on fourth and goal just before halftime.
“He can be a dominant player,” Brown said. “I think his upside is off the charts.”
The success has been a long time coming for the native of Mississauga, Ontario, one of three Canadians on the Cavaliers’ roster.
Virginia was the first program to offer Urban a scholarship after he attended several recruiting camps in the United States, and he chose the Cavaliers because it appeared former Coach Al Groh’s 3-4 defensive alignment would be perfect for his skill set.
Urban is listed at 6 feet 7 and 295 pounds, and many NFL scouts envision him as a prototypical 3-4 defensive end at the next level.
However, he was largely a nonfactor his first three years on campus. Last season, Urban was one of 11 Virginia players to start every game. Slowed by a wrist injury, he finished with just 20 tackles and two sacks. But in the final game of 2012, Urban forced a Virginia Tech fumble and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
“That was definitely a big moment for me,” Urban said. “Virginia Tech was definitely a big game for me that had people looking at me.”
That included the Canadian Football League. Urban was studying for an exam last May when he received a telephone call from Hamilton Tiger-Cats Coach Kent Austin. He had just been selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 CFL draft.
Urban never considered leaving Charlottesville early, but the attention didn’t come as a surprise for first-year Virginia defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta. He fielded calls all spring from CFL scouts wanting to glean more information about the redshirt senior he had already dubbed “The Urbanator.”
Tenuta was North Carolina State’s defensive play-caller a year ago, when Urban had three tackles and a sack in the Cavaliers’ 33-6 win. “You just knew who the guy was. He was in our backfield every play,” Tenuta said. Urban also was credited with 3.5sacks in Virginia’s spring game.
“The bigger he’s gotten, he’s [become] a force to be reckoned with,” Tenuta added. “If he keeps doing what he’s doing and stays healthy, he’ll be playing on Sundays.”
Brown marvels at his pupil’s combination of size and flexibility, although he still must tell Urban at times, “Here’s what you could become.” How all that potential translates to the rest of this season could determine just how far he shoots up NFL draft boards.
But if Urban needs any inspiration, he need only look down at the words inked into his left arm.