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August 16, 2012
In 2011, Tra Nicholson became the first true freshman to start at cornerback for UVa since Kevin Cook in 1986. And the mark that held for 25 years might not hold from last season to this one, not the way Maurice Canady is playing.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound rookie from Varina was one of the more unheralded of the recruits Mike London signed in February. But to those who saw the Central Region standout play last season, there was a buzz that he could be quite the steal.
His athleticism, first and foremost, was clear. He passed for 704 yards, rushed for 1,090 more, and added 280 receiving yards last season for Stu Brown's squad. The team captain also had 10 pass breakups and one interception that he returned for a touchdown.
Before his first day of practice at UVa was over, Canady had seized an opportunity. As London and defensive coordinator Jim Reid began the search for a new starter opposite Nicholson, Canady made the most of an opening after Drequan Hoskey (also a Henrico native) had a rough opening day.
The former wide receiver and quarterback slid right in and looks to have a pretty firm grip on that spot.
"It's a blessing, man," Canady said. "I can't call it anything but that. The coaches needed me to step up and I just did. Figured it was a great chance and it's a blessing. That's all I can really say."
While he admits he hasn't played much corner, the position seems to come easily to Canady, the Touchdown Club of Richmond's offensive MVP last year.
"I love it," he said. "I'm very natural at it. I'm learning all of the things I need to know but once I get out there, I can just do what I want basically."
From the start even though it was a challenge, the speed adjustment from high school to college was something he says he knew he could handle.
"No, not really," Canady said, when asked if the speed of the game was the biggest factor holding him back. "More than that, it's basically technique. I've never really played corner before and last year was my first year playing corner in high school. So, it's just something to get used to.
"The speed of the game is something that you have to deal with but that I can handle. But you see pretty quick that the technique makes the difference. And playing against fast guys like Darius Jennings, man, you can't afford to make a mistake."
Working on his technique has become the biggest focus for him.
"It's everything," Canady explained. "I never really had to worry about the little things and the coaching and all. But Coach (Chip) West has me headed in the right direction. It feels good."
So did Canady ever dream that this could happen?
"No, no I didn't," he said with a big smile. "I'm not even going to lie. I didn't at all. But I'm happy it did, obviously."
And rooming with Nicholson has given him the best of all sources of information.
"Tra Nicholson," Canady answered quickly when asked who he leans on. "He's a freshman All-American, man. I'm trying to do that too. I've been in his ear. He's probably tired of me but hey, I've got to do what I've got to do and that means learning as much as I can as fast as I can."
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