Sicklerville Native, Max Valles, And Virginia Defense Make Statement in Opening Loss
Most football fans are drawn to the exciting touchdown run, whether it be a pulsating run from scrimmage, dramatic kickoff return or an electrifying pick six – but the experts keep their eye on the feet.
The feet were on full display last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia when Sicklerville, New Jersey All-Star Max Valles led a spirited Virginia defensive effort against the highly favored (22 1/2 points) UCLA Bruins.
It was the opening game of the 2014 college football season for both squads. The game marked the beginning of Virginia’s 125th football season and also marked UCLA ‘s first trip to the Commonwealth of Virginia. UCLA, ranked No. 7 in most preseason polls, entered the contest riding high with their first Top Ten ranking since 1998. Many pundits consider coach Jim Mora’s Bruins a good bet to win the national championship.
The Bruins offense featured Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley, who was coming off a 2013 season where he racked up 3071 yards passing and 748 yards rushing. Hundley is also on the 2014 Maxwell, Walter Camp and O’ Brien Award Watch Lists.
To say the least, Coach Jon Tenuta’s Cavalier defense was going to be challenged by the dual threat skills of the Bruins. Many casual Virginia fans we’re thinking mismatch as in last years 59-10 loss to the Oregon Ducks.
To the pleasant surprise of the 44,000 plus Wahoo faithful, Valles and fellow linebackers Henry Coley and Daquan Romero rose to the occasion and led a relentless pass rush that pressured Hundley all over the Scott Stadium natural turf field.
When questioned about the aggressive pass rush, Valles responded with confidence in his post game remarks.
“It was our goal to make a statement,” said the rising sophomore linebacker. “No special treatment; Hundley is a good college football player, just like we are.”
Unfortunately, the Valles led defensive effort was all for naught as the Cavaliers committed three key turnovers, all that resulted in UCLA defensive touchdowns, which allowed the Bruins to squeeze out a 28-20 win and preserve their hopes for a national title bid.
Hundley was a very unHeisman-like 20-33 passing for 232 yards and limited to just 39 yards rushing by Valles and company.
However, Hundley showed why he deserves the Heisman hype when he scored the game winning touchdown when the game was on the line with a 6-yard keeper just before the end of the third quarter.
“He’s elusive for sure,” Valles said in response to a question about Hundley. “I thought I had him a couple of more times, but somehow he felt me coming and slipped away.”
Valles finished the game with 6 tackles and was credited with a pair of sacks, however, it was his ferocious and game-long pass rush that made quite an impression to those in the post game presser. Along with Coley and Romero the Hoos registered five sacks.
“We want to make a statement like this every game,” noted the 6’5″ 240 lb Valles, who has quickly gained the reputation as one of the Hoos most versatile defensive players. “Last year if we had the three turnovers like we had today, we would have gotten down on ourselves. But not this year, we took a big step today, that we can build upon for our next game.”
And for the Sicklerville, New Jersey native he took a big step forward, personally, against the Bruins. There is lot to like about Valles given his size, strength,versatility and positive work ethic – he even cramps up like Lebron!
The future appears to be a bright one for the multi-talented Valles, but the big question will be can he be just more than a household name at Virginia, throughout the ACC and maybe beyond?
It’s still early, but I wouldn’t bet against him.
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