For the first time in four years, the Virginia football team opened spring practice on Monday coming off a winning season.
The Cavaliers finished 8-5 in 2011, Mike London's second season as head coach in Charlottesville, after a 43-24 loss to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It was the program's first winning season and bowl appearance since 2007, when the Cavaliers finished 9-4 and played in the Gator Bowl.
"The biggest thing is kind of building the program to last," London said Monday morning, during the first of his team's 15 practices this spring. "You build a program to try to build upon the success of last season, but you can't be complacent by any means. You build something to last. You build expectations into the players that you expect them to do well on the field."
Rising junior quarterback Michael Rocco is among the familiar faces returning for the Cavaliers. After winning the starting job last summer, Rocco started all 13 games for Virginia last season.
"This year is a new year. We've got a lot of new guys," he said. "We're going to build off the success of last year, and know how to get there. But these new guys are different people. We're excited for the new guys coming in, and we've got to keep moving forward with these new pieces and be even better next year."
Offensively, the Cavaliers have to find a replacement for leading receiver Kris Burd, plus other departed starters Max Milien, Matt Snyder, Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota. Defensively, the team must replace seven starters -- linemen Cam Johnson, Matt Conrath, and Nick Jenkins; linebacker Aaron Taliaferro; and defensive backs Chase Minnifield, Rodney McLeod, and Corey Mosley.
London referenced several players from the recruiting class of 2011 -- receivers Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell; linebacker Daquan Romero; and defensive backs Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps -- plus veteran defensive players Will Hill and Drequan Hoskey as guys who could make an impact this fall.
"We're in that third year stage of the message being consistent, playing some of these young guys because recruiting allowed us to get them," London said. "The expectations are to do well, and to play well."
"It was a good first day," said Rocco. "We've still got a lot to improve on, and a lot of new guys to rep in there. But overall, we're all getting better, and keep improving for this year."