Painting above by Jonathan D. Gordon. Marques "Biscuit" Hagans.
It's good to be back at the keyboard ladies and gentlemen. I've certainly missed it and for my latest article, I've decided to unveil my top 10 list of favorite Virginia Cavalier football players of all-time, certainly not an easy task for somebody who is as big of a Virginia football fan as myself. I've been a die-hard fan for 18 years now and I think my attachment to Virginia Cavalier football only gets stronger and stronger as the years pass me by. Sure, the Cavaliers always manage to deal their fans a rather devastating dose of heartbreak, but that will never stop fans like me coming back for more. I still follow Virginia football recruiting very intensely and I'll still jump at the chance to crown who the next Virginia football greats will be at their respective positions, (Ras-I Dowling, CB), (Peter Lalich, QB), just to name a few. Anyways, let's get down to business shall we! I'll start with numbers 10 through 6 this week, then I'll countdown from 5 to 1 sometime in the next week and a half.
Former Virginia receiver Tyrone Davis was one of the best "big-play" threats in Virginia football history.
10. WR-Tyrone Davis-Tyrone Davis automatically jumps into this list because I have a personal story to share about him that I will never forget as long as I live. Anyways, Tyrone Davis, statistically, did more than his fair share of snagging passes while he was in Charlottesville and was one of the most decorated wideouts in school history. After it was all said and done, Davis racked up enough total yardage to land a spot in the top 5 receivers in Virginia football history, 2,153 yards to be exact, which placed him fourth on the Cavaliers' all-time receiving leaders' list. Nicknamed TD, Davis was one of the best big play receivers in school history not named Herman Moore, a legendary receiver he drew comparisons to early his freshman year at UVA. "I never thought people were expecting too much when they began comparing me to Herman so quickly,'' Davis said. TD was a very fitting nickname for a receiver whose first catch in Orange and Blue was against Duke, a 72-yard touchdown catch. In 1993, 21 of his 23 catches went for either a touchdown or a first down. The South Boston, Virginia native will forever be remembered as one of the best deep threats in Virginia football history, something the Cavaliers haven't seen in over a decade since Davis left.
Anyways, the story I have about Tyrone Davis comes during the 1994 Poulan Independence Weed-Eater Bowl. It was late December of that year and me, my father, and my brother were staying at the Sheraton in Shreveport, Louisiana, the site of the game. The Cavaliers were set to square off against TCU and we liked our chances of winning the game. This was a few years before TCU became the TCU of today, long before a legend named LaDanian Tomlinson danced on the gridiron in Fort Worth.
I was 11 years old and I was just fired up to get to see a different area of the country. We were staying in the same hotel as the Virginia players and coaches, so naturally I was fired up about that. Every time I was walking through the hotel, I was looking around to see if I would recognize anybody. Then one day before the game, me and my father were standing looking at this bulletin and this giant was towering beside me, reading the bulletin. He happened to be around 6 feet, 5 inches tall to be exact. I recognized his face from a newspaper article I had read a few days earlier and as soon as it hit me I started jumping up and down throwing my hands in the air. I asked the man, "You're Tyrone Davis aren't you?" He smiled back at me and said, "I sure am, how's it going little man?" So me and my father talked with him for a while and after that experience with Tyrone Davis, my entire trip was complete. Of course, there was still the game that had to be played. Well I had bought the last bowl poster available, thinking I would be able to get some of the players to sign it for me.
Former Virginia defensive end Mike Frederick loved to show a little skin when he suited up for the Cavs, even if the temperature was near freezing and it was pouring rain.
The game conditions were downright horrendous. It was December 28th, 1994 and the game was being playing at night, under the lights. It had to have been 32 degrees and pouring rain the entire game. Virginia defensive end Mike Frederick wasn't fazed, I'll never forget him having his jersey pulled up half-way to where his belly was exposed when the Cavaliers were warming up before kickoff. The Cavaliers ended up grinding out a 20-10 victory after a solid performance by their defense and running back Kevin Brooks. Late in the game, Tyrone Davis even had a big touchdown catch to put the game away for the Cavaliers. It was picture perfect. After the game at the hotel, the players were hauling in Domino's pizza boxes for what seemed like forever.
Former Virginia quarterback Symmion Willis even signed my poster after the game.
I was walking around to all of the players getting their autographs, guys like Tiki Barber, Ronde Barber, Symmion Willis, and many others, when I still hadn't gotten Tyrone Davis' autograph. Make no mistake about it, his autograph, would make both the poster and the story complete. So finally, Davis strolls in late and my dad and a bunch of other Uva fans huddled around him and pointed to the poster and said, "You better write him a term paper, he's been waiting for you all night!" Anyways, Davis just smiled and laughed. He signed the poster, "To Wade: Best Wishes, Tyrone Davis." To this day, I've never forgotten that story and that poster rests up in my room in a glass frame. I think it ranks as my prize possession above any of my other sports memorabilia, simply because of the encounter with Davis.
His career in the pros didn't end up being the greatest, but he still lasted eight years in the league as a 265-pound tight end, first for the New York Jets, then the Green Bay Packers. He was certainly a solid tight end for the Packers, in one season he even snagged 7 touchdowns for the Cheeseheads.
Regardless of his pro career, Tyrone Davis will always have a soft spot in my heart because of the story above. I wish I could write him and let him know how much that day meant to me, because it was truly special. Wherever he is, I'd like to extend my thoughts out to Tyrone Davis and let him know that I hope he is doing well wherever he is in life. To earn a spot on my top 10 UVA football player list, well that is no easy accomplishment ladies and gentlemen. Tyrone Davis will always be one of my personal favorite Virginia Cavaliers, that is for sure.
Former Virginia receiver Herman Moore was one of the greatest receivers in Virginia football and Detroit Lions' history.
9. WR-Herman Moore-I'm not going to lie to you, when Herman Moore finished his career at Virginia in 1991, I was eight years old. I definitely don't remember much from his college career at Virginia, but I do remember seeing those classic orange uniforms with the black and orange stripe on the helmet. I've seen highlights of his career and I do remember watching the Heisman Trophy presentation when he and quarterback Shawn Moore were finalists. The Danville, Virginia native is in my opinion, the greatest receiver in Virginia football history. He is the gold standard by which every other great Virginia receiver will be compared. He was unstoppable at catching the deep ball and with his size(6'4) and leaping ability(he was a state high-jump champion in high school) it was easy to see why. Moore was one of those players where the ball just seemed to stick to his hands, regardless of the situation. He had hands made of velcro.
I loved watching him play for the Detroit Lions and he and Barry Sanders were two of the biggest reasons I became a very big Lions fan in the middle of the '90s. You could make the argument that Moore deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but I don't think he will ever get in because he didn't perform at a very high level for an extended period of time.
Herman Moore outraces a Chicago Bears defender in 1995.
Still, you'd be hard pressed to find many receivers out there that posted the numbers that Moore did throughout his NFL career. The track phenom teamed with Brett Perriman to form one of the best receiving duos in NFL history. He was selected to four pro bowls from 1994-1997 and became just the second player besides Jerry Rice to record three 100-catch seasons. In his best season in 1995, he caught a career high 123 passes(an NFL record at the time). The legendary Lion wrapped up his 12 year NFL career with 670 receptions for 9,174 yards and 62 touchdowns.
Make no mistake about it folks, when it comes to 6 foot 4 Herman Moore, there are very few receivers that will ever be as universally respected as him at the receiver position. He's very deserving of the nine spot on this list. I own an authentic version of his Lions jersey, so it would be downright blasphemous if he didn't land on this list.
Former Virginia linebacker Rich Bedesem returns an interception against Akron. He was recently named a defensive graduate assistant on the Virginia football coaching staff.
8. Rich Bedesem-LB-Rich Bedesem's father and grandfather were both football coaches, so it should not be suprising that Bedesem had what head coach Al Groh called a great "football radar." This guy just had amazing instincts. I don't know if I'll ever see another Virginia linebacker with instincts like Bedesem. He wasn't the fastest and might not have been the strongest, but boy could Rich Bedesem bring the wood like nobody else. I'll never forget the hit he layed on a UNC quarterback. Starting quarterback Darian Durant had just injured his right thumb and Florida transfer C.J. Stephens came into the game. Stephens dropped back and got absolutely leveled by Rich Bedesem, in what was one of the hardest hits I've ever seen dished out by a Virginia football player. He didn't win any awards or reel in any post-season hardware, but make no mistake about it, the Council Rock(Pa.) standout was arguably one of the most underrated players in Virginia football history. One of his best performances came against N.C. State in 2002, when he racked up a team-leading 13 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Former Washington Post Virginia beat writer Jim Reedy named Bedesem as the number 1 most underrated player of the Virginia football 2003 squad. Bedesem even tore his right ACL twice while at UVA and still put up pretty solid career numbers. He also had to deal with the likes of specimens such as Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham trying to steal his starting spot, something he eventually conceded, but he was able to hold off Parham for much longer than many other linebackers could have. Simply put, Bedesem was a warrior who gave it his all out there on the gridiron and I loved watching him play. He's very deserving of the number eight spot on this list.
I could very easily put Heath Miller much higher on this list, but tough decisions have to be made when making a list like this. The former signal-caller has some of the softest hands you will ever see on any tight end.
7. Heath Miller-Former Virginia tight end Heath Miller had the best hands of any Virginia football player I have ever seen in my life. As head coach Al Groh once said, "He's one of those players where the ball seems to stick to his hands." You really can't explain it, but the former signal-caller was a natural born pigskin catcher. The Honaker, Virginia native entered Virginia as one of the more decorated signal callers in the state, but left school as the greatest tight end in school and ACC history. He was signal-caller Matt Schaub's favorite target and with good reason. Whenever he would get in trouble, "Big Money" was always there. If it was a clutch situation in which the Cavaliers wanted to move the sticks, Miller would always end up being wide open somewhere on the field. I don't know if I'll ever see a Virginia tight end be as good at getting open as Heath Miller was. He was remarkably good at finding the soft spot in the zones of the defense.
Heath Miller was named the Group A Offensive Player of the Year after his senior year in high school. Many people don't realize he passed for over 1,500 yards and rushed for over 900 yards during his senior season as a quarterback for Honaker High School.
After it was all said and done, Miller was the proud owner of the record in three major receiving categories for tight ends in not only Virginia history, but ACC history as well: receptions(144), yards(1703), and touchdowns(20) in a career. I'll never forget the performance he posted against the hated Virginia Tech Hokies in 2004 in Scott Stadium. The Cavaliers kept feeding Miller the ball the entire game and he abused the Hokie secondary all afternoon long to the tune of 13 catches for 145 yards. The Cavaliers won that game 35-21 and you would be lying to yourself that without the monster performance from Heath Miller that the 'Hoos would have prevailed in that contest. Miller had a few plays in his Virginia career that few other tight ends in the country would ever be able to make: his beautifully lofted 20-yard touchdown pass to Pat Estes against South Carolina in 2002, his leaping catch in the end zone against Duke in 2003, his pylon dive from the five yard line in the Clemson game in 2004, and his one-handed touchdown grab against Miami in 2004. He was awarded the Mackey Award in 2004, given to the nation's top tight end. He was also named a unanimous first-team All-American, becoming only the second player in Virginia football history to do so. Of all the honors, awards, and stats that Heath Miller piled up, perhaps this last statistic is the most impressive: he caught at least one pass in 32 of his final 33 games.
The more times Ben Roethlisberger can feed Heath Miller the football, the more good things will happen for the Steelers!
In 2005, he went on to get drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 30th pick. During his rookie season he snagged 39 receptions for 459 yards and six touchdowns. In 2006, he hauled in 34 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns. In 2007, his numbers exploded after offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' newly implemented scheme helped him tremendously. He grabbed 47 passes for 566 yards and 7 touchdowns, all three career highs for "Big Money". The Steelers should find ways to get Heath Miller the rock as often as possible, because this guy simply does not drop the football. He'll always have a soft spot in my heart as one of my favorite Virginia Cavalier football players ever. He was a class act, never complained, never ran his mouth, and never got injured. As good of a football player as he was, I think he is every bit as good of a person. Look for "Big Money" only to do bigger and bigger things for the Steelers in the NFL.
Marques Hagans single handedly lead his Cavaliers to victory over the Florida State Seminoles in 2005 at Scott Stadium, with the 'Hoos prevailing 26-21 because of his heroics. It was a game that will likely go down as the best performance by a Virginia quarterback in school history. Perhaps the biggest compliment to Hagans came in the post-game press conference from legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden,"I've never seen a quarterback make as many one-man plays as he made tonight," Bowden said.
6. Marques Hagans-Nicknamed "Biscuit", anybody that regularly read my columns on thewagononline.com should not be surprised to find Marques Hagans on this list. I was constantly defending the fleet-footed signal-caller in my articles and Virginia fans were constantly criticizing him, but he shut all of his critics up in his final season as a Virginia Cavalier. He was an absolute warrior on the gridiron and if I needed to measure former Virginia football players by heart, well nobody on this list would come close to Marques Hagans ladies and gentlemen. He gave it his all every time he was out there on the gridiron and you could see it. His spirit was unbreakable and he just had an endless amount of heart and determination in not allowing his team to lose.
Former Virginia signal-caller Marques Hagans was arguably one of the most versatile athletes ever to suit up in Charlottesville. He could run, throw, throw on the run with ease, return punts, and he was even a receiver during his time at Charlottesville. He originally committed to Indiana after he roomed with quarterback Antwaan Randle-El on his official visit there, but academics forced him to go to Fork Union Military Academy, where he played for coach John Shuman. The rest, as they say, is history.
He once told his high school postgraduate coach John Shuman at FUMA, "I play 120 percent, coach – 100 percent for me and 20 percent for someone who’s being lazy in the huddle." In high school, he led the Hampton Crabbers to 22 straight victories and even led them to the state title as a junior. His best performance as a Virginia Cavalier quarterback came against Florida State in 2005, in which he completed 27 of his 36 passes for 306 yards in lifting his team to an upset victory over the 4th ranked 'Noles. Hagans' ability to improvise and elude pressure from a swarming Seminole defense helped to give him extra time to throw the football and find open receivers.
In the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl, Marques Hagans made sure that "Pacman" Jones and the Mountaineers knew of his dynamic playmaking ability as he's seen here returning a punt for a touchdown. The Cavaliers took the Mountaineers to the woodshed that game to the tune of 48-22 in what will be remembered as one of the most beautifully orchestrated offensive gameplans in Virginia football history.
I liked to call Hagans "The Great Improvisor" because no other quarterback in Virginia football history was better at improvising when the pocket collapsed. I'll never forget the play in 2004 against Syracuse at Scott Stadium. Hagans dropped back to pass, nothing was there so he began rolling to his right, next thing I know he uses his shoulder to rip through a tackler, gets a block downfield, and scampers his way down the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown run. It was a thing of beauty.
Hagans abused Syracuse in his two contests against them, in 2004 he led the Cavaliers with 81 rushing yards and tossed for 202 passing yards and one touchdown. The Cavaliers throttled the Orange to the tune of 31-10. In 2005, he gashed the Syracuse defense on several plays, once again using his trademark ability to improvise and dance around defenders with ease to the tune of a career high 110 rushing yards. Several of those plays were crucial in lifting the Cavaliers to a heart-stopping 27-24 victory over the 'Cuse at the Carrier Dome.
Quarterback Marques Hagans saved one of his best performances for last. In the 2005 Music City Bowl, just a few days after his birthday, "Biscuit" completed 25 of his 32 passes for 357 yards, en route to being named MVP of the contest.
It was only fitting that Marques Hagans progressed as a passer very much throughout his second-year as the starting signal caller at UVA(2005) and capped his career with what was one of the best passing performances of his career. He had often heard the critics claim that he was too short at 5'9 to properly go through his progressions and see over the offensive and defensive linemen. Well, rest assured in the 2005 Music City Bowl against Minnesota, "Biscuit" once again hushed all of his critics with a masterful performance, completing 25 of his 32 passes for 357 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Hampton native earned MVP honors with his performance and it was a more than fitting way for Hagans to finish his career at the University of Virginia.
This is a beautiful painting by Jonathan D. Gordon one of my favorite signal-callers. Marques Hagans aka "The Playmaker" will always have a soft spot in my heart. He didn't win any big-time awards besides MVP of the 2005 Music City Bowl, but Marques Hagans was a competitor in its purest form. He had more heart than I think I'll ever see in any football player. I'll never forget watching him play in Charlottesville. It was truly a privilege and an honor.
Marques Hagans, pictured above, with the St. Louis Rams.
In 2006, Hagans took his athleticsm to the NFL, where he was drafted in the 5th round(144th pick overall) by the St. Louis Rams. He initially started out as a punt returner, but he eventually would find his niche as a receiver, something he excelled at while he was at Virginia, even though he only played for one season. In 2007, he hauled in 8 passes for 101 yards, despite only starting one contest. Here's to hoping "Biscuit" continues to improve at the receiver position. The man was simply too dynamic of a playmaker to not be able to make it in the NFL, in my opinion at least.
Okay, ladies and gents, that wraps up numbers 10 through 6. I'll finish it up with 5 through 1 sometime soon! Check back next Saturday for the update.