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Dating to 1946, the University of Richmond has lost eight consecutive football games to Virginia. Only one of those defeats was by fewer than 16 points.
The Spiders' chances of reversing those trends in Saturday's season opener, remote as they may be, hinge in large part on two Peninsula products.
Junior Ben Edwards, a York High graduate, is Richmond's top returning receiver. His versatility — he was an All-Bay Rivers District quarterback, kick returner and punter — lends itself to special teams and trick plays.
Senior Darius McMillan from Phoebus High is a three-year starter at linebacker. He was the Colonial Athletic Association's No. 3 tackler in 2011 and punctuated the season with a career-high 20 stops against William and Mary.
Edwards "has to have a good year for us," first-year Richmond coach Danny Rocco said Wednesday. "He has to have a good game for us this week for us to be able to move the ball enough."
McMillan "is a leader by action," Rocco said. "To make 20 tackles in a game, you're bustin' your butt and throwing your body around. You never have enough guys that are just going to be that relentless out there."
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McMillan, who missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, declined interview requests this week. Calling himself "more of a go-to guy," Edwards said he welcomed Rocco's higher expectations.
The Spiders' primary receiver the past three seasons was Tre Gray, who as a senior caught 95 passes for 1,187 yards, both program records. Operating mostly out of a slot alignment, Edwards complemented Gray last season with 44 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns.
Edwards and McMillan are again transitioning to a new head coach. A redshirt freshman on Richmond's 2008 national title team, McMillan has played for Mike London, Latrell Scott, Wayne Lineburg and Rocco.
London left for Virginia in 2009, succeeded by Scott, who resigned just prior to last season after a second DWI arrest. Lineburg served as an interim last season before Richmond hired Rocco from Liberty.
"He's very organized, very down-to-earth," Edwards said of Rocco. "He expects us to win. This isn't a rebuilding year by any stretch. He made that point clear."
The Spiders began last season with an upset of Duke, followed by victories over Wagner and VMI. But they lost their final eight games, all to Colonial Athletic Association opponents.
Four of the defeats were by a combined eight points.
"I think as a program we understand we can play with anybody when we play our best ball," Edwards said. "This summer, all we talked about was fourth quarters and finishing games."
In 30 games against Virginia, dating to 1893, Richmond has never scored more than 19 points. The Spiders lost their 2010 opener at Scott Stadium 34-13, and given the Cavaliers' offensive personnel, a similar or larger margin Saturday would not surprise.
That game was London's first as Virginia's coach and Edwards' first in a Richmond uniform.
"I wasn't as prepared as I'll be this time," Edwards said.
To hear Rocco, a former Virginia assistant, tell it, the Cavaliers should prepare to see Edwards in several ways.
"He'll do some returning, punt returning, kickoff returning," Rocco said. "He'll be a motion guy into the backfield where we may hand him the ball on a jet sweep.
"And some of those weekly specials, he's always a candidate for those (gadget plays) because of his versatility. … I think every week we'll look for ways to get Ben the ball."
Last season, Edwards returned a blocked punt 34 yards for a touchdown against VMI and completed a 24-yard, fourth-down pass versus Delaware. So he's accustomed to multi-tasking, also an asset in his unusual major.
A member of last season's CAA All-Academic team, Edwards is studying leadership. He took a high school course on the topic and didn't care for it. But at his parents' urging, he revisited the subject in college and was hooked.
Edwards described the major as a combination of business, management, philosophy and communications.
"It's such an (unlimited) field," he said. "I feel like I can do anything with it."
Quality leaders adjust rapidly, and Edwards and his teammates are still adapting to Rocco.
"I don't try to get too sentimental talking about going to war or battles," Rocco said. "But in a lot of ways, that's what we do. We lead these guys into battle, and until you go into battle, there's a lot of unknowns. … We're still in the infancy stages."