A "Rudy'' story at UVA is what CFB can be about

His name is Joe Spaziani and he is a football player who wants to be a football coach. He is also a coach's son (his father is former Boston College football coach Frank Spaziani).

markblaudschun

Right now, he is living part of his dream as a walk-on football long-snapper on a University of Virginia team which is one of the surprise teams of the season, posting a 5-1 record going into Saturday's game against Boston College.

That is a surprise because a year ago the Cavs were 2-10.

But this is not a tale of the job that Cavalier coach Bronco Mendenhall has done in reviving Virginia football.

This is a feel good story about what college football can be about if you cut out the sleaze factor that the infusion of money and television has injected into the system. If you go beyond the headlines and the sound bites and go into the trenches.

It is a story of how Spaziani, a solid three-sport performer at Hingham (Ma.) High school with skills which made him a likely FCS performer, refocused after the disappointment of seeing his senior season end in football end with a broken leg.

Spaziani is and has always been a jock. He was also intrigued by the profession of his father, who is currently the defensive coordinator at New Mexico State. While some kids playing football dream of the next level, whether it is college for the National Football League, Joe Spaziani focused early on his career goal.

""A football coach,'' he said with a smile five years ago when he was making a decision about where to go to college.

"A football coach,'' he said by phone from UVA last week when asked about his future after three and a half years in the UVA football program. "But this has been fun.''

"This'' is his current status on the UVA team, which began as more of a hope when he came to UVA as a "preferred' walk-on player.

That meant he wasn't offered a scholarship, but he was invited to training camp by former Cavalier coach Mike London.

""I came here and just absorbed things'' said Spaziani, who was a QB in high school. ""I would go to the meetings, go to the work outs.,Try and learn what I could.''

But he was a practice player, an ACC version of Rudy, the Notre Dame walk-on player who simply wanted to be part of ND tradition. Spaziani only dressed for a few games, didn't make the trips on the road.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

""In my sophomore season, I tried to get on the traveling squad,'' said Spaziani. "So I looked around and tried to figure out what I could do. I saw the guys who held on place kicks. And the guys who did the long snaps on extra points, punts and field goals. I said, "I can hold. I started practicing long snaps. And I kept going to the QB meetings.''

He slowly absorbed the system. But he was also watching the coaches and learning. He talked to his father the way he had for so many years growing up. He was also looking to the future, maybe as a graduate assistant at a high powered football program. It was part of the plan.

The reality of FBS football changed things before Joe's junior season when London was fired and Mendenhall was hired from BYU.

Spaziani had to prove himself again.

He was looking for an opportunity, which came when a series of injuries opened a position as long snapper and there was Joe Spaziani raising his hand saying," Coach, I can do that.''

Yes, he could and by the middle of last season, Joe Spaziani WAS the UVA long snapper. At 6-foot-2 inches, 210 pound he was also undersized, which is why his goal of being a coach remained a priority, but now he was living another dream of playing for a Power 5 conference school and filling a role..

What he didn't know was that his perseverance was drawing attention.

""We had just finished a workout (before this season) and were having a meeting involving the special teams when I looked up and saw my picture on the screen in the meeting room,'' said Spaziani. ""I said, "What's that about? Then Coach Mendenhall said, ""Who is that guy? That looks like a scholarship player to me..''

And just like that, Joe Spaziani's world changed just a bit. He was still part of the team. But he was also part of the elite corps of scholarship players which make big time FBS programs function.

"I've still got a year of eligibility after this,'' he said. "I'm hoping to come back next year, so I'll see where that takes me. But I've wanted to be a coach since I was in seventh grade. I want to be a teacher, so it's all good.''

Yes, it is.

***

We had another fabulous weekend of drama in college football, much of it provided by Pac-12 teams. And as is usually the case on the left coast, most of it occurred closer to dawn than dusk.

The Pac-12 television deal scheduled many of those games in prime (PACIFIC Coast) time, which meant that most of the college football world didn't catch what teams like Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona did over the weekend, because games were still being played near 2 a.m. Eastern time.

The Pac-12 took the money, but it gave up the right to moan about nonsense such as "East Coast bias'' when rankings and awards are being decided.

While much of the country was watching mismatches between Alabama and Arkansas and Ohio State and Nebraska on Saturday night, recycling names and coaches and establishing images, Stanford was pounding Oregon 49-7 and Cardinal running back Bryce Love was proving once again he may be the best college football player in the country (147 yards, 2 TDs), he was doing it quietly and without much of a live audience.

There were other dramas unfolding such as unbeaten Washington being stunned by Arizona State and Arizona taking apart the UCLA defense, effectively killing UCLA QB Josh Rosen's fading Heisman hopes. Those games were also played in "Late Night'' time slots.

There should be a compromise, which would be to slot the games into the Prime Time EASTERN slots, which would allow maximum exposure for what the Pac-12 wants to sell.

Or even a Sunday afternoon experiment such as the one our buddy Herb Gould suggested a few weeks ago.

But unless the contracts are modified, that's not going to happen. The Pac-12 sold its soul to television, which brings in the money. That's fine.

But there should be some compromise. Why start games in October at 8 p.m. local time? Does ESPN (a TV Pac-12 provider) really care about Saturday night ratings in Corvalis or Chino Hills?

What is wrong with putting in a rule that night games start on Saturday night no later than 5pm? Or maximize the total to one "late night'' game a week to the Pac-12?

But I don't want to hear one bit of whining from anyone west of the Rockies about "East Coast bias'' or how a deserving team or player was slighted.

If you want to sell a product you have to reach your target audience and in the world of college football, most of them are not watching football at 1 in the morning.[/membership]

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