ACC: Peter Lalich

Miami coach Randy Shannon is entering the final year of his four-year contract and he’s eagerly awaiting an extension.

Jerry Ratcliffe of DailyProgress.com looks at former Virginia quarterback recruit Peter Lalich and what might have been had he stayed with the Cavaliers.

Injuries continue to deplete Virginia Tech's offensive line this spring.

The Sporting News names Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt the ninth-best power runner in the country.

Just days after watching the spring game, offensive line recruit Ross Burbank decided he wanted to join Virginia.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In order to get home from the McCue Center, where the Virginia football team practices, quarterback Jameel Sewell must pass Scott Stadium -- a place he hasn't played in since 2007.

"I can look right down into the stadium every time I pass it and I get a chill," he said.

For three Virginia quarterbacks, this spring has been all about second chances.

Sewell, the Cavaliers' 2007 starter who learned a hard lesson from last year's academic suspension, has been given another chance to reassert himself as the leader of the offense. Marc Verica, who was thrust into the role in mid-September after Peter Lalich was dismissed from the team, is looking to redeem himself from a poor finish down the stretch. And senior Vic Hall, who was a standout high school quarterback but spent the past two seasons as a starting corner and is the Cavs' leading returning tackler, has been given the opportunity to play the position he originally thought he would.

All three quarterbacks began the spring on an even playing field in first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon's new scheme, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the spring game, they'll showcase their progress to the public for the first time.

 
  Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
  Quarterback Jameel Sewell is happy to be competing for the Cavaliers' starting job after missing the 2008 season.

"Marc Verica did a pretty decent job last year," Sewell said. "He needed some help, he couldn't do everything by himself. He's out here competing like he should, and he's done a great job so far. And you've got Vic Hall, who's got all the state records as a quarterback in high school and it seems like coming back to offense hasn't missed a beat. And me, I'm just trying to keep up. I've been gone for a while, but I'm not at a disadvantage at all. This is a new offense, and things are different now."

That's the hope at least in Charlottesville for a program that finished last season 5-7 overall and won just three games in the ACC. The Cavaliers ended 2008 with four straight losses, resulting in a major staff overhaul that included coach Al Groh firing his son, Mike Groh, as offensive coordinator.

In the years that Groh has been successful, though, he tends to have a dependable, experienced quarterback.

"It's picked up some momentum here in the last few practices as we anticipated might be the case, given it was going to take a while for the quarterbacks to get some continuity in what they were going," Groh said. "... Given that two of the three primary candidates were not full-time quarterbacks last year -- Jameel and Vic -- it's really been a case of those guys getting back in rhythm as quarterbacks per say, plus a new system. Marc obviously had playing time last year, but (is in) a new system. So it's taken a little while, but Monday showed some real signs of it picking up."

Sewell started all 13 games in 2007 and led Virginia to a 9-4 record and an appearance in New Year's Day bowl game. He's a shifty runner who passed for 2,176 yards and ran for 279 more that year. Verica is more of a drop back passer who made his first start last fall in the third game against Connecticut. He went on to start nine of the final 10 games and threw for 2,037 yards while completing 63.8 percent of his attempts. He threw eight touchdown passes, though, and 16 interceptions.

Verica attributed a lot of that to the fact it was the first season he had played, and said this offense requires a lot from the quarterback. It is designed to create space, spread the defense out, and creates better angles for linemen to block, and more space for running backs and wide receivers to operate.

"It's a dynamic offense, so we can attack a defense with the quarterback running the ball, we can attack the defenses with short passes, long passes, screens," he said. "There's a number of things, but I really think he's just looking for a leader to manage the team out there. ... Jameel and Vic are obviously more talented athletes and runners than I am. I am able to do some of that, too. I really think the offense plays to all our strengths."

Sewell said he's more responsible now, and he's learned from his mistakes. He helped coach at Charlottesville High school last season, but kept a close watch on the Cavaliers, some of whom he remained roommates with. When Sewell walked back on the field at Virginia for the first time this spring, he said he was overwhelmed, and didn't want to leave -- not practice, not film sessions, not the weight room.

"I just didn't want it to end, even though I knew it was going to happen again the next day," he said.

Hall, who was a record-setting quarterback at Gretna Senior High School, said he spent this spring readjusting to the technique and fundamentals, and he's had to build the strength in his throwing arm. In his surprise appearance at quarterback against Virginia Tech last year, Hall rushed for 109 yards and had scoring runs of 40 and 16 yards. He only threw one pass, though, and is a bit undersized at 5-foot-9.

Hall said he was told in mid-January that he'd move to quarterback full time for the spring - the position he thought he had originally come to Charlottesville to play. Instead, he developed into a successful corner over the past two seasons. His five forced fumbles last year tied the school record and he had 59 tackles.

"The main thing that I wanted to prove coming to college is that I can work hard and help my team in anyway," Hall said. "It wasn't about proving to people I could do this or that, because whatever you do on the field as far as helping your team and making a contribution, I feel like that's proof in itself. But yeah, I do look at this as a second chance to be what I aspired to be when I came to Virginia -- a quarterback."

Hall's not the only one.

"I've always tried to move on to the next play and forget," Verica said. "When you hang onto those things in your mind, it just wears on you. You're not going to play as well. You have to have a very short memory if you want to play this position. There's going to be some adverse times, and you have to put those behind you and rise above. The challenge for me is to that behind me and move forward."

This spring, all three quarterbacks got a second chance to do that.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It doesn't sound as if Oregon State was the right fit for former Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich, either. Lalich was dismissed from Virginia's team after he admitted in court he violated the probation he received for underage possession of alcohol.

According to this blog in the Oregonian, Lalich "isn't even close" to being a darkhorse in the quarterback race at Oregon State. It's better to hear he's struggling on the field, though, than off of it.

Virginia season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
3:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Overview: The Cavaliers managed to morph from a downright bad football team into one capable of winning the ACC title before finishing the season the way they started -- poorly. A tumultuous offseason that included the loss of starting quarterback Jameel Sewell to academic troubles contributed to a second 5-7 record in three seasons for embattled coach Al Groh. Virginia was 1-3 in September, 4-0 in October, and 0-4 in November. Part of the problem was up front, where Virginia had three first-time starters on the offensive line tasked with protecting a new quarterback.

Not only did Virginia lose Sewell, but it also lost his backup, Peter Lalich, who transferred after his own off-field troubles became a distraction. Turnovers were costly throughout the entire season, and Marc Verica's 16 interceptions were the most by an ACC quarterback and the second-most during a single season in school history. The Cavaliers ended the season on an all-too familiar note -- with a loss to rival Virginia Tech -- and offensive coordinator Mike Groh was not retained by his father.

Offensive MVP: Tight end John Phillips. He was the ACC's leading receiver among tight ends with 48 catches for 384 yards. Phillips led the Cavaliers in receptions in four games this season, and caught seven against Miami. His ability to block, though, is what makes him a complete player.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Clint Sintim. He was one of the most dominating rush linebackers in the ACC, and had a streak of five games with a sack. Nearly a quarter of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage and nobody on the team came close to his 24 quarterback pressures.

Turning point: The 24-17 home loss to Miami halted the four-game winning streak and proved to be costly in the Coastal Division standings. It snowballed into a four-game losing streak.

What's next: Groh needs to make a few hires and finish recruiting -- two critical jobs for a coach who is already on the hot seat for next season. The fact that athletic director Craig Littlepage didn't extend Groh's contract this season is evidence of that. Establishing an identity on offense will help, and that will start with a new coordinator.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
10:22
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

North Carolina -- Good luck singling out one person or phase of the game in this one. They couldn't have done it without Casey Barth's field goals, or Cam Sexton's touchdown. And the defense. The Tar Heels snagged four turnovers in the second half -- two interceptions and two lost fumbles -- including Quan Sturdivant's momentum-changing 32-yard interception return for a touchdown to start the third quarter. Don't forget Trimane Goddard's fumble recovery with three seconds left.

Virginia coach Al Groh -- Yes, Cedric Peerman had an amazing game, Clint Sintim, too. But it's time to give the man behind it all some credit. He took so much heat for the off-field incidents in the preseason, for how he handled the Peter Lalich situation, and for the losses. Now he deserves recognition for turning this once laughable team into a contender.

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner -- He redeemed himself after an uncharacteristically poor performance against Navy and completed 22 of 34 passes for 186 yards, and he also ran for 74 yards. He marched the Deacs downfield on a 15-play, 78-yard drive in the fourth quarter that led Wake to its 12-7 win over Clemson.

Wake Forest defense -- Alphonso Smith tied the school record with his 17th interception, and the defense held Clemson to just 21 rushing yards and 2 of 14 third-down conversions. Linebacker Stanley Arnoux broke up Cullen Harper's fourth-and-20 pass with about 3:30 left to seal the win.

Miami's defense -- The Hurricanes forced Central Florida into a school-record 12 punts and allowed just 78 total yards on an afternoon when, save for Graig Cooper, Miami's offense was going nowhere.

ACC internal affairs

September, 24, 2008
9/24/08
10:55
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Clemson -- The Tigers are expecting ACC leading rusher Da'Rel Scott to play, which will force defensive coordinator Vic Koenning to load more players at the line of scrimmage. That, of course, will open up the play-action passing game. Koenning is looking for some sacks to come from his ends in this game, as South Carolina State's tackles blocked them one-on-one last weekend and the sacks came from the interior linemen and the linebackers.

Maryland -- Backup quarterback Josh Portis is doing the best he can to put the team ahead of his frustration over a lack of significant playing time. Expect some wrinkles in the Terps' offense this week, but it's unclear if Portis will play more of a role in it. "I'm still waiting to help the team out a little more with my talents, but I'm a team guy and the bottom line is you got to win," he said. "Obviously I'm a little frustrated with what's going on, but I'm here for the team. ... I'm just rolling with the punches."

Duke -- Virginia's switch at quarterback from Peter Lalich to Marc Verica has caused a small tweak in the coaching staff's preparation. Not only isn't there a lot of film of Verica, who started his first game and saw his first significant playing time in this year's loss to UConn, but he's also a different quarterback than Lalich, which means the Cavaliers could switch up their offense. So David Cutcliffe and his staff have watched more 2007 film, thinking that Verica's mobility and athleticism is more similar to former starter Jameel Sewell.

Florida State -- Playmaker Preston Parker has been working more at receiver this week and less at tailback, and that's probably how he'll be used against Colorado. That could open an opportunity for freshman running back Jermaine Thomas, who played well in the first two games, but watched the Wake Forest game from the sidelines. The running game should also get a boost from the blocking of tight end Caz Piurowski, one of the formerly suspended players.

NC State -- Defensive coordinator Mike Archer is tasked with simplifying things for freshman Dwayne Maddox, who is taking over for injured starting weakside linebacker Nate Irving, while at the same time stopping South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe. Archer is familiar with the Bulls from his time at Kentucky and said this will be the best offensive line the Wolfpack will have faced. He also said there is a misconception Grothe just throws it, and that he is a tough quarterback who gets hit, gets back up and scrambles. The good news is that after watching practice film, NC State coach Tom O'Brien told Archer that Maddox is "practicing like a starter now."

Verica ready to take over UVA's offense

September, 24, 2008
9/24/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Between his classes on Tuesday, Virginia quarterback Marc Verica stopped by the music building on campus and played the piano -- better than one might assume a college quarterback could. It's Verica's way of relieving stress. He also taught himself how to play the guitar.

Next on Verica's list of things to master is Virginia's offense.

Now that former quarterback Peter Lalich has officially moved on, Verica is the "next man up."

Make that the third man up.

Prior to this season, Verica, a redshirt sophomore, had never taken a snap in a college game. He never had to. Jameel Sewell, the 2007 starter, was getting the job done before he got into an academic rut and had to miss this season. Lalich was named as Sewell's replacement, but brought a cloud of distraction to the program with his off-field incidents.

In what he described as a "surreal" experience, Verica was called into coach Al Groh's office prior to UVA's Sept. 13 game at Connecticut and told he would be the starter. Following a 45-10 loss to the Huskies, Lalich was dismissed from the team and Verica named the new starter.

Now he will lead the Cavaliers into Durham, N.C., on Saturday where they will try to earn their first ACC win of the season against an improved Duke team that has already surpassed last year's win total (1).

"I think I've handled it pretty well so far," Verica said. "I've always tried to prepare like I was the starter regardless if I was the starter going into the game or the backup because you really never know what's going to happen, whether it be an injury, or in this circumstance, an off-the-field issue. I prepared to be the starter, and was kind of thrust into that role the other night. Things didn't turnout the way we had hoped, but I think it will improve as these games go on and I get more experience."

Despite the outcome of the game, Verica earned a passing grade at UConn as he completed 22 of 30 passes for 158 yards and one interception. The 22 completions were the third most in school history by a quarterback making his first start, and the 158 passing yards were the most since 1999, when David Rivers threw for 228 yards in the only start of his career at UVA.

Verica said he's still working on the intangible aspects of being a quarterback, like assuming a leadership role in the huddle and at practices.

"I think I'm getting better at it," he said. "I don't think you can just step in there and be the team leader right away. I think it comes with experience and you have to prove yourself. My focus in practice has been to keep a high tempo and encourage guys when they make the right plays and get on someone if they're not doing the right thing, just bring a positive energy to the practice and I think the team has been responding well."

Verica caught Virginia's attention as a junior at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa., where he completed 112 of 222 passes for 1,545 yards and eight touchdowns.

One person who has been helping Verica is his father, Mark, who his son said was recruited as a quarterback by Notre Dame until he broke his leg and all recruiters backed off. Mark Verica wound up playing for Kutztown, but still managed to get an NFL tryout. He never made a roster, but Marc said his father's experience has helped him through this transition at UVA.

"He's been a big influence on me," Marc said, "not just on the field, but definitely off the field."

That's exactly what Verica's teammates need from him now. The Cavs are 1-2 heading into Durham and have the league's worst scoring offense, total offense, and rushing offense. They also rank last in pass efficiency.

"I was kind of always thinking I might get my shot, but now that it's here it's amazing," he said. "I'm really excited. It's unfortunate anytime you have to take on a starting role in a situation like, this but you've just got to be prepared. Our team has always preached the next man up mentality, and that's kind of how I approached it. I'm taking this pretty seriously."

ACC in the midmorning: Game-day edition

September, 20, 2008
9/20/08
10:45
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's a good day to be in Tallahassee, but if you're not, there's plenty going on elsewhere. Check it out:

Here are a few things to watch tonight here in Tally. What it all boils down to, like FSU O-line coach Rick Trickett said, is experience vs. inexperience.

UVA QB Lalich off the team

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
7:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Just got this statement from Virginia's athletic department confirming quarterback Peter Lalich is off the team:

"Peter Lalich is no longer a member of the University of Virginia football team," athletic director Craig Littlepage stated in the release. "We have supported Peter, but believe today a point has been reached where it's best for all concerned that he no longer participate on the team. This is my decision and it has the support of head football coach Al Groh. We wish Peter the best in the future. We will have no further comment."

Al Groh: "Any time a situation doesn't work out in the most positive way for any player it's regrettable, but we stand united with this decision."

Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they have a bye week.

Virginia QB back at practice

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
5:33
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia coach Al Groh said he's not pointing any fingers, nor is he trying to find any silver lining in the Cavaliers' 45-10 loss to Connecticut.

There might be a bright spot back in Charlottesville, though, as Groh said suspended quarterback Peter Lalich rejoined his teammates.

"We resumed practice today and he was there," Groh said on his Sunday teleconference.

Whether or not Lalich will be there for the Sept. 27 Duke game depends on what happens in court the day before.

Groh said having a bye week will help them prepare all of their quarterbacks for the Blue Devils.

"It will certainly be taken into consideration in that we have twice as many practices in preparation for this game as a normal one," Groh said. "That will allow us to give quite a few turns to each one of the quarterbacks here in the building to it. We ought to be somewhat prepared for a number of different contingencies."

Marc Verica started his first game and threw his first collegiate pass against UConn, and completed 22 of 30 passes for 158 yards and one interception.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I missed this one, in which UVA coach Al Groh addresses the timing of the decision to suspend Peter Lalich. This story also cites sources that say the decision had something to do with "an undisclosed matter that does not involve the criminal justice system, but again called Lalich's judgment into question."

Like it almost always does, the truth appears to lie somewhere in the middle.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Not only did the Tar Heels snap a 20-game out-of-state losing streak, but UNC also made Rutgers look bad in the process. There were all kinds of firsts for North Carolina under Butch Davis in Thursday night's nationally televised game, but it wasn't the first time the team couldn't have done it without Brandon Tate.

Odds are it won't be the last.

UNC proved in the second half it's a better team than what it showed in the season opener against McNeese State.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming ... "Peter's Story" ...

Todd Lalich, the father of UVA quarterback Peter Lalich, called Jerry Ratcliffe of the Charlottesville Daily Progress and gave a public vote of support for UVA coach Al Groh. Said Todd Lalich:

"I would tell any parents out there that has a football recruit that Virginia is interested in, that if they want their boy to turn into a man, they should send them to Al Groh," Todd Lalich said. "Fans might not like [Groh's] X's and O's, or the way he deals with the media sometimes, but I am incredibly impressed with the way Al handles his players."

Lalich also told Ratcliffe that the decision to leave Lalich behind for the UConn game came from "on high," not from Groh. In this story, though, it sounds like Groh made the call. Regardless of who made it, Ratcliffe disagrees with this decision, and said "this just isn't right."

There is more to this story (there always is). It's important to remember that urine tests reportedly support Lalich's statement that he did not use drugs or alcohol while on probation. (It's also possible that he was dehydrated on the day he was scheduled to take the test and couldn't, um, produce the sample).

Nonetheless ...

UVA's starting quarterback -- its team leader -- was on probation. Yes, it was for something some of us may be all-too familiar with -- underage possession or purchase of alcohol (not that I'm condoning it, just saying welcome to college) and athletes have played football while accused of far worse. They've also been suspended for far less.

If you ask me, this whole disaster couldn't have worked out any better for Virginia. The coach gets a pat on the back, the administration looks like it won't tolerate wayward behavior, and the quarterback got to play against USC and beat Richmond.

And now, it's out of their hands because the court will likely decide whether or not Lalich plays against Duke.

For now, it's Marc Verica's turn. What do we know about UVA's new starter, other than he hasn't thrown a pass yet for UVA?

Moving on ...

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Caulton Tudor says this is the time for Butch Davis to shine. The Tar Heels lost this game two seasons ago, but a win tonight could "turn UNC's fortunes around." This game will be about more than just football, though.

- Elsewhere in the state of North Carolina, Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson said he's ready to make his comeback against the Clemson Tigers.

- It looks like Da'Quan Bowers has earned the starting nod for this game, and Kevin Alexander has moved to the "bandit end" position to replace injured starter Ricky Sapp. All of that can be found at the end of this story about Durrell Barry. Clemson is expected to use three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen on Saturday.

- What's up with suspended Florida State defensive lineman Budd Thacker? Something, but Bobby Bowden won't tell. If he's back for Wake Forest, it will definitely help the Noles.

- Georgia Tech is still working on learning the triple option, but once they figure it out, look out.

- In case you missed it last night, Peter Lalich will not play against Connecticut. Two thoughts on this -- well, OK, three: 1. Good move. 2. Should've done it last week. 3. I love the line in this story "seldom used" to describe Marc Verica, whose bio in the media guide reads: 2007 -- Did not appear in any games. 2006 -- Redshirted. Yeah, I'd say that's seldom.

- I watched the Miami/Florida game last weekend on a TV. Apparently most of you did, too.

- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has left his spot in the tower and is getting in a few faces at practice this week. And Bryan Stinespring is "challenging their manhood." Where is highly touted RB Ryan Williams? It looks like he might steal Tyrod Taylor's redshirt.

- It looks like leather lungs will be starring in the next Under Armour commercial for the Terps.

Lalich won't play against UConn

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
7:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich will not play against Connecticut on Saturday, coach Al Groh announced today in a statement released by the school.

Sophomore Marc Verica will make the first start of his career.

"We stand by Peter and in talking with him have made a decision which is best in the short term for him, the team, and our University," Groh stated. "We have a strong set of standards and values on our team that reflect those of the University and we do not compromise those values to win football games."

Lalich started the first two games for the Cavaliers and appeared to be their best option after losing Jameel Sewell to academic issues -- Lalich was the only quarterback with experience left on the roster. But Lalich encountered some off-field issues of his own in July when he was arrested for underage purchase of alcohol. Earlier this week, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported Lalich admitted that he violated terms of his probation, a confession Lalich recanted on Tuesday.

This was all reported last week, but Lalich was still allowed to play last Saturday against Richmond.

"I love my team and my teammates and the way they have let me know that they trust me and have my back," Lalich said in the release. "Because I care so much about our team, it is best for me to step back temporarily from my starting position so that my teammates can focus 100 percent on getting ready for the game."

"Coach Groh and I have frequent conversations and we agree on this. I appreciate that coach sees me first as a person, then as a quarterback. I make mistakes like everyone, but I have followed the terms of my probation and I am committed to our team and the University of Virginia."

Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage supported the decision.

"Peter and coach Groh came to a decision and I fully support it," Littlepage said in the release. "Over the past 24 hours I've had conversations with both Peter and coach Groh. The focus of our discussions shifted from due process and fairness and moved toward what would be best for Peter and the team, at least until such time that matters were cleared up about his probation status."

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The now sealed court documents say one thing, but Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich says another:

"I have not smoked or done any drugs while on my probation," Lalich said Tuesday at the Cavaliers' weekly news conference.

Here's what you need to know, according to the Charlottesville Daily Progress:

  • Lalich says he misunderstood the time frame in question when he admitted during a probation interview that he violated a requirement that he not consume alcohol or other drugs. 
  • Lalich's drug test proved negative for alcohol and drugs -- a day after he was originally scheduled to take it.
  • Lalich's court date is Sept. 26, the day before Virginia plays Duke.

Here's what we don't know:

  • Why or how the court document is no longer a matter of public record.
  • Why Lalich couldn't take the test on the day he was supposed to.
  • Why it took until Tuesday for anyone to refute this, when the story broke before Lalich took the field against Richmond.

Said coach Al Groh:

"In life, whatever circumstances any of us are involved in, certainly in any of those circumstances all of us bring some of it on ourselves, whether it's good or bad," Groh said. "In this particular case it seems like in some circumstances a rush to pile on."

This might be true, but being a college quarterback is a privilege, and the media is also quick to pile on accolades when one is successful. Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez and Graham Harrell are in the news far more than Peter Lalich.

The bottom line: Lalich put himself in a situation he shouldn't have been in, otherwise this wouldn't be an issue, but his coaches and teammates support him like most families would. Guilt is something for the court to determine, and playing time is up to the coach. The fans are the ones paying to see Lalich on Saturdays, though, so they have a right to know what's going on with their quarterback -- good or bad.

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