Calls came from around the country, and Shawn Moore answered the questions with style and substance. A graduate student in the counseling education program at the University of Virginia, Moore is also a Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback about to play the biggest game in school history. The Cavaliers, unfamiliar with such media attention, set up a conference call to accommodate the demand Tuesday, and Moore handled the inquisitors himself, rattling off names on a roll call so they could ask him everything from books to bowling to basketball. And, oh yeah, football.
It was a nice touch, Moore dealing with the situation so professionally, proving there are excellent athletes who also can be serious students. Moore, 22, from Martinsville, Va., already has a degree in psychology. Now he's taking nine hours of graduate courses while leading the school to its first-ever No. 1 ranking in the wire service polls.
This is a year of firsts for Virginia, a school lacking in football tradition. Its football team has never finished the season ranked in the Top 10. Basketball player Ralph Sampson was probably the school's most famous athlete.
The University of Virginia usually gains its pride from other pursuits. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, Virginia recently was rated the nation's best public university by the New York Times and one of the top three overall. He's a football star at a school known more for its scholars, which Moore insists made his choice four years ago simple.
"Nobody really sold academics the way Virginia did," he said. "The bottom line was what academics could do. I wanted to stay close to home and go somewhere I'd be able to get my degree and not just play football.
"I didn't know what to make of the football program. It was definitely a winning program, but I didn't imagine in my wildest dreams that we could go this far this year."
Virginia plays Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game (CBS) at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. The Cavaliers (7-0) and 16th-ranked Yellow Jackets (6-0-1) will battle for first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A victory would almost assure Virginia of its first outright ACC title.
But more importantly for the Cavaliers, this game is viewed as the last serious test on the way to an improbable undefeated season. Virginia's 7-0 start is the best since 1949, and no Virginia team has ever been 8-0. An undefeated season could put Virginia in either the Citrus, Sugar or Orange Bowl to play the No. 2-ranked team for the national championship.
"I know a lot has been made about Virginia being No.
1 and even some other coaches in the Top Five have said some things," Moore said. "Maybe at the end of the year, we'll get to play one of those teams and prove we deserve it. One thing about it is, coach (George) Welsh has said to use it as incentive, to play with pride and play like a No.
Moore has won his past 17 starts and has led Virginia to a 22-2 overall record in the past 24 games. He is the only player in ACC history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in his career and rush for more than 1,000. Through seven games this year, he has been responsible for 23 touchdowns in just 230 plays, or one touchdown every 10 times he touches the ball.
For the season, Moore _ who is 6 feet 2, 215 pounds _ has completed 98 of 169 passes for 1,573 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's been intercepted only four times and leads the nation in passing efficiency. He's also scored five rushing touchdowns.
Those are Heisman Trophy numbers.
"I had no idea how much went into that Heisman thing," said Derek Dooley, a Virginia wide receiver who is also the son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley and one of Moore's roommates. "There's hundreds of people calling Shawn. Not the media, but people who claim they're his friend. The thing about Shawn is, he's so nice."
All of Charlottesville is wrapped up in the No.
1 ranking, and Moore welcomes the Heisman attention. He knows this game against Georgia Tech _ on national television _ can make or break his Heisman campaign. And he knows it means everything to his team.
"They (Virginia officials) came to me this summer and said they were going to promote me for the Heisman," Moore said. "It hasn't gotten out of control. They have done enough for me. I think they realize now it's all on my shoulders. I have to go out and perform if I'm going to be in contention.