CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -When he's not studying, practicing, watching film or lifting weights, Virginia defensive end Chris Long looks for inspiration on the Discovery Channel, specifically programs about ferocious animals.
Then on Saturdays, he puts what he's learned into action, relentlessly trying to fight through double and triple teams in his attempt to wreak havoc.
Inevitably, he leaves opposing players beaten, exhausted and sucking oxygen on the sideline, even as he stands, helmet in hand, watching No. 16 Virginia's offense.
l big challenge.''
The Hokies and Virginia meet next Saturday in the biggest game in the history of the series, and quite possibly the biggest in the Cavaliers' 110-year football history. The winner advances to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Dec. 1.
``It's a different feeling than we've had around here in a while,'' said Long, who returned this year feeling like he had something to prove, and wanting to help coach Al Groh and Virginia rise again. ``We're in a place that we haven't been before.''
Virginia (9-2) was just 20-16 in Long's first three seasons, 5-7 last year. Groh's future, already in question, wasn't helped by a season-opening 23-3 loss at Wyoming.
But with Long leading a defense that has helped produce an NCAA record five victories by two points or less, the Cavaliers have bounced back and won nine of 10. One more triumph would yield just the second 10-victory season in program history.
Long's contribution, Groh said, can't be measured just in statistics, although his are among the best in the nation. He's got 12 sacks in 11 games, including one for a critical safety against Maryland. He's second on the team in tackles with 69, including 17 for losses, and among the national leaders on the line with seven passes broken up.
``Sometimes to really understand a game, it would probably be a good idea sometime if we had some of these games and we didn't hand out any stat sheets because sometimes they really lead you away from what's behind the results of the game,'' Groh said.
``In his case, he's a dynamic factor on almost every play in the game.''
Opposing coaches will be pleased to send him off to the NFL, where he'll follow in the sizable footsteps of his father Howie, a Hall of Fame defensive end.
``No one has contained Chris Long,'' N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. Long's five tackles against the Wolfpack included a sack for a 20-yard loss late in the fourth quarter with the Cavaliers trailing 29-24 and desperate to get the ball back.
They did, but failed to rally, their only loss since the opening debacle.
``He plays extremely hard,'' Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. ``He's physical. He can run. He's exactly what you look for in a football player.''
Howie Long, now a broadcaster on Fox, has stayed out of the way of Virginia's coaches during his son's career there, and beams with pride when he hears his son interviewed.
``I'm more proud of the person he is than anything else,'' Howie Long said in a telephone interview. ``He's a better son, a better brother, a better teammate, a better neighbor, a better friend than he is a football player, and he's a heck of a football player.''
It will leave a void, he said, when Chris no longer is playing close to the family's home near Charlottesville. The Long's second son, Kyle, signed this week to play baseball at Florida State, and No. 3, Howie Jr., hopes to play college lacrosse.
``For Diane and me, it's just been great to be along for the ride,'' their father said.
The same is true for Groh, who can't help but gush about his best player.
A defensive coach during a long NFL career, Groh paid Chris Long the biggest compliment he's ever bestowed on a player when asked if he's ever had a defender as prolific.
``56,'' he said, referring to Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
``When I coached Lawrence, sometimes you'd hear people say someone coming into the league was `the next Lawrence Taylor,''' the former Giants linebackers coach said.
``I'll be the last guy to say that. I have too much respect and admiration. I'm not saying he's the next Lawrence Taylor. What I did say is that he's the only player except Lawrence that's been able to dominate his level of competition to this degree.''
Long's influence goes far beyond the field of play. As the highest-profile member of the Cavaliers, the two-time captain sets the tone in the locker room, too.
at's very much ... handed down from coach Groh, but I think it's very much embodied in who Chris is, the way he approaches the game and the way he competes every day in practice, but especially Saturday.''
Despite being a semifinalist or finalist for virtually every award that goes to a defensive player this year, Long isn't at all boastful and is quick to credit his linemates for drawing attention away from him.
``You just have to play all game, play the same every play - down 10, up 10, down 30, up 30, triple team, single team,'' he said. ``You have to give maximum effort every time, and you just have to hope the one time they relax, you're ready to make a play.''
Brown, the Hokies tackle, is the one who protects his quarterbacks' blind side, and said doing it while playing against Long can make for an especially long afternoon.
``He has a motor like nobody I've seen before,'' he said.
When Virginia beat Wake Forest 17-16 on Nov. 3 for its third 1-point victory of the season, Long was in on 10 tackles and had a sack despite being double- and triple-teamed all game. His tirelessness left tackle Louis Frazier duly impressed.
getting the job done.''
The reason for that, said Long, is simple:
``Hopefully you just let your play speak for yourself,'' he said.
Or, when you do well, leave others trying to describe how well.
``It's hard to imagine there being a better player at any position than Chris Long,'' Groh said when it was suggested that Long be promoted for the Heisman Trophy.
``A guy would have to be one of the Transformers to be better than Chris.''

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