London has Virginia back in bowl business

Mike London hopes his Virginia players learn it’s more fun to

play in a bowl game than to watch one on TV.

London’s Virginia team held its first Georgia Dome practice

Tuesday for the Chick-fil-A Bowl game Saturday night against

Auburn. Virginia is making its first bowl trip since the 2007

season.

”It’s a feeling that once you’ve gotten here after spending

last year at home, then you never want to spend another Christmas

or another holiday season or postseason at home,” London said.

No player on Virginia’s team has appeared in a bowl game. A few

fifth-year seniors were on the 2007 team that went to the Gator

Bowl, but they didn’t play.

Virginia (8-4) finished 4-8 last year in London’s first

season.

”We talked about it every year and fell short the last two or

three years,” senior defensive end Cam Johnson said. “We knew

going in this was our last shot at it. Everybody did their

part.”

Johnson said it was frustrating sitting at home watching other

teams play in bowl games the last three years.

”It definitely hurt to be home around Christmas time,” he

said.

Offensive guard Luke Bowanko said he and his father watched

other bowl games last year ”just because of our love of the

game.”

”It’s a bitter feeling watching when you could have been

playing,” Bowanko said. ”It’s good this year to be able to sit

and watch another bowl game from here instead of at home on the

couch.”

Last year, Auburn (7-5) was preparing to beat Oregon in the

national championship game. Its path to the championship included a

win in the Southeastern Conference championship game at the Georgia

Dome.

While Auburn was enjoying college football’s top reward,

Virginia players craved the chance to play in any bowl. London has

been quick to remind his players of Auburn’s success.

”Until somebody else is crowned national champions, they are

it,” London said about the Tigers.

That recent success makes Auburn a target for the

success-starved Virginia team.

”They’re going to be gunning for us,” Auburn tight end Philip

Lutzenkirchen said Tuesday. ”I know they want to knock off the

defending national champions and continue building their

program.”

Johnson agreed Virginia is hungry.

”Our goal has been to turn the program around,” Johnson said.

”We’re on track right now to do that. I don’t think we want to let

that slip away.”

London and the Cavaliers say the trip to Atlanta is an important

step for the program and an important lesson for the players.

”This is a great bowl game, and the opportunity to experience

it will only be forged through offseason workouts and summer

workouts,” London said. ”You don’t get there during the season.

You get there for all the hard work you put in beforehand. I think

a lot of these guys understand the journey is long. It’s hard, but

if you want to have anything positive come out of it, you have to

pay your dues early. That’s what we want to have happen, and that’s

what we want to continue doing going forward.”

Virginia’s season included a home win over Georgia Tech and wins

at Florida State and Miami.

”The whole season our main thing was to bring Virginia back to

respectability in the ACC and also in the nation,” linebacker

LaRoy Reynolds said. ”I feel like we’ve done that by going to

certain places and winning.”

Now Virginia has a chance to show off in front of a national TV

audience.

”It’s an opportunity to showcase where we are as far as our

progression and to showcase our ability and talents,” Reynolds

said.

NOTES: London moved Tuesday’s practice from Georgia Tech to the

Georgia Dome because of heavy rain in the Atlanta area Monday

night. Georgia Tech has a new indoor practice facility, but

Virginia also would have needed the school’s outdoor field. London

said he might practice at Georgia Tech on Wednesday.