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Cavaliers turning into believers

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Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012 9:52 pm | Updated: 4:18 pm, Mon Nov 12, 2012.

Maurice Canady was being brutally honest.

Here was this freshman cornerback, not too far removed from the winning ways of his Varina High School, sitting in University of Virginia football meetings for a 2-6 team and listening to this guy tell him everything was going to be OK.

Going to be OK? The Cavaliers were losers of six straight games. They couldn’t beat the average likes of Maryland and Wake Forest at home on back-to-back weeks. Ahead of them were November tests terribly more daunting than what they just fell to in October.

“We’re just this close,” Mike London would tell Canady and his teammates. “We’re just this close.”

Admittedly, Canady was getting tired of the broken record.

“I’d be like, ‘Man he says this every week,’” Canady said.

Then something happened. UVa went on the road as 11-point underdogs and drilled N.C. State by 27. Then it happened again. The Wahoos turned a 10-point fourth quarter deficit into a dramatic 41-40 win over Miami.

Suddenly, London has another believer.

“It’s coming to life,” Canady said with a grin Saturday afternoon after the Scott Stadium thriller with the Hurricanes. “So I can’t be mad at all.”

So how exactly did this happen? How did Virginia, a seemingly hopeless squad on Oct. 20, turn into one of the hottest teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Nov. 10?

Credit a certain highly visible optimist who was dressed in camouflage on Saturday.

“I choose to be positive,” said London, the Cavs’ third-year head coach. “If you can reflect that with the young men you’re in charge of and responsible for, and you set the tone of the atmosphere of ‘you can if we can do this and we do that’ and accept nothing less — whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s in the community or whether it’s on the field — then you set a culture.”

One where winning happens.

Even when you’re up against a wall of 87 yards with 2:38 to go and trailing by five.

The Cavaliers’ epic fourth quarter 16-play drive against the Hurricanes that ended with a Michael Rocco to Jake McGee 10-yard, go-ahead touchdown with six seconds remaining was symbolic of just what the Wahoos are trying to accomplish here.

They’re not quitting.

“We have to (keep believing),” said McGee, who has teamed with Rocco twice this season for late game-winning scores. “We put ourselves in a big enough hole where we can’t lose again if we want to go to the postseason.

“We have to keep doing it. We have two more weeks and it starts with UNC next.”

Yes, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Virginia will try to continue this ride when the Tar Heels (6-4, 3-3) come to Charlottesville for an ESPN special.

A victory over North Carolina combined with a Virginia Tech win over Boston College on Saturday could set up a winner-take-bowl matchup in Blacksburg on Nov. 24.

But that story line’s for another week. For right now, it’s about Virginia making this journey from the cellar to, at least, the middle floor.

“Sometimes you can’t measure desire and you can’t measure heart,” London said. “It’s tough when things don’t go your way. The players look to leadership to see if we’re going to tank it, or if we’re going to stay positive.”

They’ve gone with the latter.

So far, so good.

“It would have been really easy to get down after our losing streak, but Coach London stays optimistic about everything,” said cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, who made the game’s final tackle on Saturday. “It trickles down to the rest of our team and when we start winning, people start believing.

“The more you believe, the better you do.”

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