UVA great Anthony Poindexter recalls a few sleepless nights

Anthony Poindexter
Anthony Poindexter. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Former Virginia great Anthony Poindexter was almost too good to be true. An All-American football player who prioritized getting his degree. But the decision to return for his senior season wasn’t automatic. Now, the rest of the story.

Anthony Poindexter was an Atlantic Coast Conference football legend.

The Virginia safety played with reckless abandon for four years in Charlottesville, being named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 1998. “Dex” was a two-time consensus All-American (1997 and 1998), and a three-time All-ACC player.

His strength, on-field awareness and speed made NFL scouts look twice.

After being named All-American his junior year, Poindexter was facing a grueling decision of whether to stay at Virginia or declare early for the NFL draft, where he almost certainly would be near the top of the first round.

Poindexter had already accumulated a spectacular college career. In his first year of action, Poindexter was a pivotal part of perhaps the greatest UVA team of all time in 1995. Virginia fans still remember Poindexter assisting on the stop of Florida State tailback Warrick Dunn at the goal line as time expired in the Cavaliers’ historic win over the Seminoles.

The win by Virginia was the first defeat for the Seminoles’ ever in the ACC play. The Cavaliers went on that season to win their second-ever ACC title and notch a win over Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

In his second year at Virginia, Poindexter established a school record with 98 tackles.

I was working with the Virginia sports information office on game days that season, and my assignment was to watch the game through binoculars and record Virginia defensive players’ solo tackles, first hits, and assists.

I worked under the legendary Doyle Smith, who after each game scrutinized game film, to make sure my end-of-game records were accurate before being submitted as official and sent to the ACC headquarters in Greensboro.

It was common that on Sundays I would get a call from Doyle advising me that he was making a few changes to the individual player tackle summary.

A few times those conversations involved removing a solo tackle (or two) from Poindexter’s tally, and instead changing them to an assist.

Not many, but a few.

My argument to Doyle was usually along the lines of: “Mr. Smith (I always called him Mr. Smith, because I was young, and he was Doyle Smith, a legend in the world of college sports, especially lacrosse), the way I saw that play was that after Poindexter absolutely blew up the ball carrier , he didn’t have any other option but to go down. The other Virginia player in close proximity simply fell on him.”

My plea always fell short.

The point is Poindexter may have actually had a few more than those record-setting 98 tackles that season.

With all those records and legend-making moments, the temptation to leave Charlottesville after his junior season and head to the NFL was huge for Poindexter.

And shortly after the season, after many sleepless nights and endless conversation with his parents, Poindexter had finally reached his decision.

He was confident, and nothing was going to come his way to change his mind.

He loved his time at Virginia, loved being a student, loved being a part of the Charlottesville community, loved his teammates, heck, he even told me how much he respected the Virginia media.

On the other hand, the chance of being a first round draft pick, a high first round draft pick, millions of dollars heading his way, it was all tempting.

He called coach George Welsh’s secretary and scheduled a face-to-face meeting. He wanted to make sure Welsh was “understanding and comfortable” with his decision.

Welsh was on a recruiting trip, meaning it would be a few days before that meeting was to happen.

Some more sleepless nights were in Poindexter’s future.

The sit-down with Welsh finally came. The decision that Poindexter and his family had reached was that the pros could wait. The Virginia degree and the opportunity to return for his senior season meant more to the Poindexter family.

The money would be there.

Poindexter wasn’t prepared for his coach’s response when told him that he would be returning to Charlottesville for his final season.

“He sat back in his chair, was silent for a few seconds, and said, are you sure? Don’t come back for me, I’ve made my money, it’s your time to make money and take care of yourself and your family,” Poindexter recalled the legendary Virginia coach telling him.

Poindexter told me this in a recent Zoom meeting: “I was a bit shocked by his response. I mean, I thought he would be shocked and jubilant about my decision to return,” noted Poindexter.

But looking back on that meeting with Welsh and his time at Virginia, and fast forwarding to today’s environment of college football, where “it’s all about the head coaches, power, prestige,” it now makes perfect sense to Poindexter.

“That’s what Coach Welsh was all about, that’s what my time in Charlottesville was all about,” said Poindexter, his voice cracking just a bit thinking about his college career.

“I received a degree from one the top universities in the nation, I met friends there I still keep in contact with,” boasted Poindexter. “Heck, even you media guys have become part of my life” added the former Virginia great.

That senior season wasn’t what anyone could have hoped for or expected. But things have worked out well for Pondexter. In March he was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame, and will be inducted in New York in December.

Poindexter is currently in his fourth season at Purdue University as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach.

When asked if he keeps up with his alma matter, he looked at me as though I was an alien.

“You kidding, right? I think Coach Mendenhall is doing things the right way. No shortcuts. He’s really taken the program in a great direction in a very short time,” remarked Poindexter.

Does he still bleed orange and blue? Poindexter answered that in a politically correct manner.

“What I can say is that my entire family watched the national championship basketball game in our living room. And we all were dressed in practically the same colors, and it wasn’t a coincidence,” said Poindexter.

With the Big Ten sitting out this fall football season, it leaves Poindexter with a bit more time on his hands.

Maybe watching some ACC football in his living room, perhaps wearing some familiar colors again.

Story by Scott German

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