In a game painted Orange and Blue, White stood for stopping.
But Max Valles and Eli Harold created such a blur, colors were no longer visible to the University of Virginia defensive ends.
“Me and Eli came so free,” Valles said, “we couldn’t slow down.”
During the Orange-Blue spring game April 12, the Virginia defense accounted for nine sacks, eight coming in traditional spring form — a simple touch of the white-clad quarterback in the backfield. Sack No. 9, however, was the kind reserved for the fall, when it’s an actual opposing signal caller representing the target and an actual take to the ground isn’t frowned upon.
The play, snapped in the second half, had Greyson Lambert dropping back to throw — and then dropping to the Scott Stadium grass.
Valles, charging from one side, and Harold, charging from the other, met at the quarterback, forming a collision that led to a few seconds of panic.
“We tried not to hit him,” Valles, a 2012 St. Joseph High School graduate, said. “At the end of the day, we’re teammates. So we got to check on him after that.”
Lambert, with assistance from his assailants, eventually got to his feet. All was well.
“I was just making sure he was OK, because his head was down in the ground,” Valles said. “I was like, ‘You OK, man?’ He was good, though. He’s a really tough kid, so he’s all right.”
An innocent smile rushed across Valles’ face when he rehashed that moment to reporters.
Five months from now, though, coach Mike London said he thinks Valles and Harold will be guilty of all kinds of QB raids.
“I believe that those two guys can be special,” said the fifth-year Virginia coach. “I believe that you can do multiple things with them, whether their hands are on the ground or whether they’re standing up.”
Valles, the 2011 Press Male Co-Athlete of the Fall, attended Fork Union Military Academy after graduating from St. Joe. He is a 6-foot-5, 240-pound sophomore who made 23 tackles and had four sacks last season playing outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s blitz-happy scheme.
A spring later, Tenuta has expanded Valles’ role, with the second-year upstart now contending with receiver/tight end Jake McGee for the title of Virginia’s most versatile player.
“Honestly, I have no idea what I play,” Valles said. “I go to the linebacker meetings, but halfway through the linebacker meetings, Tenuta tells me to go to the defensive line meeting.
“I don’t know. Individual period, I do linebacker stuff. But halfway through practice, I’ll go to the individual period with the defensive line.”
Consider it Tenuta’s way of continuous tinkering until he finds the best 11 to put on the field.
Valles, with his imposing stature and lightning-quick burst, is certainly a candidate to crack that lineup.
In the spring game, he led all Cavaliers with 3.5 tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks.
Harold, the Cavalier who spent the most time in opponents’ backfields in 2013, was right below Valles on the spring game stat sheet with six tackles and two sacks of his own.
Tenuta routinely set the explosive duo opposite each other, creating havoc for the Virginia quarterback trio of Lambert, David Watford and Matt Johns.
“We’re both really fast and strong kids,” Valles said. “I think it was fun when we were both on the same side because they didn’t know who to block. This year, we’re on opposite edges, but you don’t know where the pressure’s coming from, really.”
In year one under Tenuta, Virginia had 28 sacks, an 11-sack improvement from 2012. Harold went from two sacks to a team-best 8.5.
As for what the NFL-bodied junior can produce in 2014?
“Eli’s done great over the spring,” Valles said. “From last season, I think he had like eight sacks, but he’s probably going to have a good 15 this year. He’s done a lot of work this offseason.”
Together, they’ve given Cavaliers some encouraging signs heading into the summer after a 2-10 2013 campaign.
“Those two guys,” said senior middle linebacker Henry Coley, “with their speed, size, it’s hard to block both of them.”
Just ask Lambert.
“It’s going to be fun to see them go against somebody besides us,” the sophomore said with a grin.