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August 22, 2012Oday Aboushi is standing on the field at Scott Stadium near the back of the end zone. As he moves to the music that blares during this final open practice of fall training camp, he cracks a smile when he sees his fellow offensive linemen Morgan Moses dancing along, too.
And the way these two are on the sidelines, you'd never guess the latter missed preseason first team All-ACC by a vote to the former. But that's the way Aboushi says he and Moses have grown and the way Virginia's offensive line has come together.
"No, not at all," Aboushi says when asked if he was surprised by the honor. "I expected it. Going into the season last year as a junior I made a lot of goals for myself. I fell short of a few of those goals, which is definitely upsetting. I made second team All ACC and I wanted to make first. So this summer I worked extremely hard with the team as well as individually on my own to make these things come true.
"This preseason, to see these things come out, it's encouraging but it's only preseason."
Aboushi, of course, is a senior captain entering his third year as a starter. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound left tackle from Xaverian High School in Brooklyn played in six games as a freshman in 2009 and has started every game (25 and counting) since the beginning of the 2010 season.
He split time between both tackle spots in 2010 with along the line with a then highly-touted freshmen that later became the stalwart on the right side. These days, Aboushi and Moses are arguably the conference's best tackles.
"Absolutely," Aboushi says dismissively with a smile when asked if they're the best. "I mean, I'm sure there are other great tackles in the ACC and all but I don't know about the best duo."
So what is it that UVa and offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim can count on from those tackles in 2012 as the group tries to replace two starters?
"I think it's the experience we have as well as what we expect from each other," Aboushi explained. "We know how good we can be. We know how great we can be. Every day, we go into the weight room and compete. We work out with each other. We run with each other. We watch film together.
"We have that connection where I look at Morgan as a brother and not we're afraid of competition. We both encourage each other, we both have our weaknesses, and we both help each other."
At this stage in a good player's career, film study is usually the thing that gets brought up the most. For Aboushi, that is certainly the case.
"I study a lot of college tackles," he said. "I study a lot of NFL tackles. Joe Thomas, Jake Long, those guys I've watched film on to see what works better. Nebraska, Wisconsin, I watch their tackles as well as their whole offensive line. That's what makes a great offensive line: knowing what you're going to expect from the guy next to you. Knowing what I get from Morgan or our center, from whoever is playing guard, that's where you really become a better player."
Replacing left guard Austin Pasztor, who played next to Aboushi for two years, and center Anthony Mihota is a challenge the OL faced head on starting this past summer.
"We're young but we lead by leadership," he said. "The guys behind us know what to expect. And we try to set the expectations high every day. They watch film with us, they get the same amount of reps as us, they get graded just as hard. They get criticized just as hard.
"We're young but at the same time we're tough back there. We're not too worried about that."
Moving Luke Bowanko from right guard to center will mean both Aboushi and Moses will be playing beside new guards this season. The line, Aboushi says, has been preparing for that probability.
"Luke brings that versatility where he could play center or guard," Aboushi added. "He's real smart, he's a student of the game and he's pretty much an extension of Coach Wach. That's just another opportunity.
"What I had with Austin was crucial. But that's what this summer was used for. We all just worked. Footwork, film, drills. To get each other on the same page. Going into the season, the biggest thing will be communication. We'll know what to expect from each other so we just have to communicate."
A season ago, an experienced group started every game together. Now, the group must adapt.
"Last year, it was all business," Aboushi said. "If we noticed something that would happen in a game...we would let the coaches know. Being an extension of the coaching staff really helps."
And to think, Aboushi didn't have to be here on this warm August afternoon. He could have forgone his senior season and headed for the green pastures of the NFL. Even now, the preseason accolades (All ACC, Outland Trophy Watch List, etc.) haven't been nearly as loud as the buzz for his future playing on Sundays.
"I hear about it," Aboushi said. "It's definitely exciting to know. But I stayed my senior year with the purpose of going to the next level with the University of Virginia. The opportunity was there. It was tough for a little bit but after being around the team, talking with the coaches and my family, the big thing was thinking to myself that I didn't feel like I was ready to leave. I had a lot more to get stronger on, mentally and physically. Just staying was the best decision overall."
While he submitted paperwork to the NFL Advisory Committee, he made the decision to stay well before he even got the information back. That intel, Aboushi recalled, said he would likely be a late-first or early-second round pick, something he called "great news" but it didn't matter.
In the end, he talked to Chris Long and Eugene Monroe, players he trusted who had to make similar decisions. "The best thing they did was to stay in school and get their degree. The NFL's not for long."
And so now, instead of being a rookie at the next level he's a team captain in Charlottesville, keeping things light but never letting his teammates lose sight of the great goals.
"With the memories I will have had here, with the way this program is going, to be part of something so special? It's unimaginable," he concluded.
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