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A long way from that grainy tape to the NFL

Story by Chris Graham

Branden Albert was barely on Al Groh’s radar screen – and he wasn’t on many other ones.

Now a projected top-five NFL draft pick, Albert didn’t even play high-school football until he transferred from his native Rochester, N.Y., to Baltimore, and went out for football as a junior at the insistence of his older brother.

Albert’s dream was to play big-time basketball, which is scary to think about now, looking at the 6-7, 315-pounder and envisioning him coming hard down the lane.

“I think my basketball background has helped me a lot – because a lot of things I do on a basketball court, I do on a football field. And one thing is pass-blocking. A key thing for a left tackle in the NFL is you’ve got to be able to move your feet, and playing defense on a basketball court is just like pass-blocking on a football field,” Albert said.

Primarily a left guard at UVa., Albert is projected a left tackle in the NFL. Groh used Albert at left tackle some in 2007, and said the only reason he didn’t give Albert more time at the position in his three years in Charlottesville is because of the presence of heralded offensive-line recruit Eugene Monroe.

“That’s probably one of the more attractive features about Branden, that he’s shown that he can be a left guard, and clearly then could be a right guard. And then because he played so well at left tackle in the games that he played, he could be a left tackle or he could be a right tackle. So teams that are interested don’t have to say that he’s a guard or he’s a tackle. If they need a lineman, he’s whatever lineman they need him to be,” Groh said.

Groh would have been hard-pressed to have predicted that he would be saying those words about Albert a few years ago.
“We got hold of a long-range grainy tape that was taken from pretty far away. But what you could see was, boy, this was a player who was athletic, he could run. He had lateral quickness, change of direction. But it was really from far away,” Groh said of his first memory of Albert.

Groh remembers the impression that Albert left behind from his campus visit.

“From talking with him, there was clearly a lot of ambition on his part. He was the major reason. He just sold us on his ambition and his commitment to that. And he’s been the same guy ever since and has really turned himself into a player with a long-term future,” Groh said.

“Branden’s a wonderful success story, a player who just didn’t have a lot of hype, and has just been diligent and resolute in pursuing his career and his development,” Groh said.

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