Ausar Walcott of Virginia tries to tackle a USC running back last year. (Stephen Dunn/GETTY IMAGES )
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The last time Ausar Walcott ignored an instinct, he ended up arrested, suspended from the Virginia football team and in court facing charges of assault and battery.
Almost eight months after his mere presence at a fight near James Madison University nearly ended his Cavaliers career, Walcott said he’s relying more on intuition these days. That’s how he took full advantage of the second chance Coach Mike London gave him on the football team, at a position he’d never before played.
That’s how he came to accept that talking to a psychologist was good for him.
That’s why he wasn’t surprised when the coaching staff recently told him to move back to the unit for which he started 11 games last season.
“I spent a lot of that time [when he was suspended] by myself, getting help on things that I can do to improve on myself and make myself a better person, as well as a better player,” said Walcott, a fourth-year junior. “I spent a lot of time reading and just trying to find out why I was making that decision, why that happened to me, why I didn’t make a different decision.”
On Jan. 30, Walcott and two Virginia teammates — Mike Price and Devin Wallace — became involved in a verbal confrontation with a group of people outside a party. Wallace’s attorney claimed in court that bottles and cups were thrown at the three Cavaliers players. A JMU student testified he shouted a racial epithet several times, though he denied directing it at Wallace or Walcott, both of whom are black.
Believing the racial epithet had been directed at them, Walcott, Wallace and Price entered the apartment building where the party was being hosted. A physical confrontation ensued, and while all charges against Walcott eventually were dropped, he said Monday he never should have put himself in such a position in the first place.
“My gut kind of did tell me to walk away, and I should have,” Walcott said. “Even though I didn’t do anything, if I would have just walked away, I never would have even been in this situation and everything would have been cleared.”
After the three players were arrested, London suspended them indefinitely from the team. They were not allowed to work out with the Cavaliers or participate in spring practice sessions.
Walcott said he received counsel from his mother, Pamela Robinson, as well as from London, special teams coordinator Anthony Poindexter and George Morris, the football team’s chaplain.
At the mandate of the coaching staff, Walcott also began seeing Jim Bauman, the Virginia athletic department’s sports psychologist. He would talk to Bauman about his classes or his teachers or anything else related to how his day went.
“We’re always doing football and school; sometimes it feels good to just sit down and talk to somebody and have somebody listen to you,” Walcott said. “He’s here for us; might as well use him.”
London reinstated Walcott to the team in April after the charges against him were dropped and moved the player to the bottom of the depth chart at defensive end. As a starter at weak-side linebacker in 2010, Walcott had finished third on the team in tackles.
“I wanted him to be uncomfortable,” London said. “I wanted him to understand what it feels like to almost have an opportunity be taken away from you, to realize that working hard and getting yourself back up is winning the graces of the coaches and players.”
Walcott said he never felt uncomfortable, and that he was just glad to be back on the roster. In fact, “I didn’t care if they would have put me at center. I would have played there,” he said.
And so Walcott learned the nuances of playing defensive end. He said he gained 10 pounds and now weighs around 240. He abided by London’s three primary tenets: show class, go to class and treat people with dignity and respect. London said Walcott’s recent behavior has been “kind of a quiet surprise.”
Early last week, Virginia’s coaches told Walcott to move to strong-side linebacker, something the player said he had anticipated. Defensive coordinator Jim Reid said in a telephone interview the switch was made to address Virginia’s thin depth at linebacker.
This season, Walcott will see time at both outside linebacker positions and occasionally may step in at defensive end.
“Really,” Reid said. “I think we’ve got the best of both worlds going here right now.”