When Luke Bowanko first studied BYU last week, the Virginia left guard not only checked out the Cougars’ defensive scheme — a 3-4 — and highlighted their best player — All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy. He peeked, too, at the competition's playing history.
“I think they have a guy — a defensive end — who was on the roster in 2007,” Bowanko said, “which was — what? — my sophomore year in high school.”
That ’07 participant is actually nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna. As a freshman, the 6-foot-2, 305-pounder started every game and made 25 tackles for a BYU team that finished 11-2 and won the Las Vegas Bowl.
At 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Manumaleuna will line up across from UVa center Ross Burbank as the two squads open the 2013 season at Scott Stadium.
What was Burbank doing in 2007? Also playing his freshman year — at Cox High School in Virginia Beach.
The Cavaliers, with only eight seniors and 34 underclassmen listed on their depth chart, can make the case for the most youthful team in the country.
The Cougars just might be the oldest.
Manumaleuna wasn’t a sophomore until 2010. He spent 2008 and 2009 serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Oklahoma City.
Taysom Hill, BYU’s sophomore quarterback, is 23 years old. His two-year Mormon mission to Sydney, Australia, came after high school.
There are currently 57 missionaries from the Cougar football team serving in 18 different countries. It’s part of the tradition of BYU, a school owned and operated by the LDS Church.
It has its athletic advantages.
“What I was doing for those two years has greatly benefitted me as a person,” Hill said during a phone interview Monday evening. “I learned a lot of attributes and a lot of characteristics that have helped me both on and off the field.
“Our team is full of guys just like that, who have very similar experiences to me. We know how to work hard and we know that we need to work hard to get it done. I think that has allowed us to be successful. It gives us a lot of great leadership to pull from.”
Virginia, for this particular season, is going with a 13-player leadership council. The group ranges from its three senior captains (Bowanko, defensive end Jake Snyder, safety Rijo Walker) to six juniors (long-snapper Matt Fortin, safety Anthony Harris, receiver Darius Jennings, cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, running back Kevin Parks, punter Alec Vozenilek) to even a pair of redshirt freshmen in quarterback Greyson Lambert and cornerback Wilfred Wahee.
“We all just kind of bought in on this concept of we all need to lead each other and follow at times as well,” Harris said. “We’re just making it a team effort.”
UVa is in a tie for second nationally for fewest seniors. Those 34 underclassmen on the depth chart? Most in the nation.
Is the overwhelming youth a concern?
“There’s young teams across the country,” Bowanko said. “It is what it is. It’s attrition in college football. It strikes everybody. Guys just need to step up and prove themselves. If it doesn’t happen week one, it’ll happen week two.
“I have confidence in these guys that at a certain point of the season, they’re going to be moving on all cylinders and playing like they’re vets.”
Eleven of the projected starting 22 Cavaliers are from the deep junior class, many from fourth-year head coach Mike London’s first full recruiting class.
“When you look at our class, we’ve been here,” said Parks, who has over 1,400 rushing yards in two years. “So we’re looked upon as leaders. You only got a couple seniors, but our class is thick. I feel like we’re leaders.”
Hill, meanwhile, feels like he’s constantly surrounded by a roster full of seniors.
“There’s a lot to be said for guys that are [traditional] sophomores, juniors, seniors at a college,” Hill said. “You receive a lot of great experiences playing in stadiums around the country and being in a situation where you have a lot of notoriety.
“So not to take away from what those guys have done, but the mission is unique and I’ve experienced nothing like it.
“I honestly do feel like it gives us a competitive edge because of the experience that we had out there.”
ESPNU will televise Saturday’s clash in age.