At first glance, the most unique characteristic about Virginia's Brent Urban appears to be that he's not your average fat guy playing defensive tackle. He's about as athletic as they come on the interior.
Yet, there's more to the amiable Canadian than just a 6-foot-7, 295-pound frame that has caught the attention of Canadian Football League coaches. Look a little closer, and you can't help but notice the gigantic half-sleeve tattoo on his left forearm of a guitar surrounded by 43 words — a tribute to the late Duane Allman.
It's a lot of ink, but it says a lot about Urban and what he's into beyond the football field. This dude loves his music.
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Heinz Field, 100 Art Rooney Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
"I'm kind of all over the place, but classic rock is kind of really my first passion as far as listening to music," said Urban, a senior who will help lead U.Va.'s defense Saturday in the Cavaliers' Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Pittsburgh (2-1 overall, 1-1 ACC).
U.Va. (2-1, 0-0) will try to pressure Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage, a 6-5 senior who leads the ACC with an average of 287 yards passing per game.
In a 58-55 win last Saturday at Duke, Savage completed 23 of 33 passes for 424 yards and an ACC single-game record-tying six touchdowns. Urban could certainly have a hand in harassing Savage.
Though Urban has carved his own path as a player by overcoming injuries to catch the attention of the scouts, he has father to thank for what he's into off the field. Urban, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, remembers being a freshman in high school when he first picked up his dad's iPod in a moment of curiosity.
He discovered his dad's musical tastes skewed a lot cooler than he imagined. There was a full catalog of Cream and Allman Brothers Band songs on the iPod, stuff the average Canadian teenager in the early 21st century hadn't really heard.
"I just remember listening to the Allman Brothers' 'Mountain Jam' and 'Midnight Rider' and thinking, 'Oh, I should check these guys out,'" Urban said. "I started doing research on the Allman Brothers."
Research led to obsession.
By the time he was a junior at Lorne Park Secondary School in Mississauga, he was beginning to catch the attention of American college football coaches — and he was also a full-blown Allman Brothers addict.
Urban read Duane Allman's biography "Skydog." He wore out copies of the band's 1971 "At Fillmore East" and '72 "Eat A Peach" albums. There were also the beginnings of an idea for the tattoo to honor Allman, who died in '71 at the age of 24 in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Ga.
"I thought 'At Fillmore East' was the most incredible thing I'd ever heard," said Urban, who has played his own Les Paul guitar off-and-on for the last four years — not nearly enough, according to Urban's assessment of his girlfriend's opinion. "I was just really into Duane Allman. … I was just idolizing him for those two years."
Urban started the tattoo with the image of Allman's Les Paul guitar set among wispy clouds to acknowledge Allman's "Skydog" nickname. About a year later, Urban added Allman's epitaph — words written by Allman — to the tattoo:
"I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can. I will take love wherever I find it and offer it to everyone who will take it. ... Seek knowledge from those wiser ... and teach those who wish to learn from me."
That's a lot to absorb in one tattoo, but it says a lot about Urban as a person.
"What you guys see, it's pretty much what he is," U.Va. defensive end Jake Snyder said. "He's definitely one of the most laid back guys I've ever been around. He's funny and he's pretty carefree, but when he gets on the field, he's extremely motivated."
While Urban's musical interests are represented by an amalgam of varying sounds that also include The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, MGMT, Portugal. The Man, Sigur Ros, Drake, Metallica and Megadeth, he's more than just a music lover from north of the border to intrigued pro football coaches. He doesn't captivate with impressive overall stats — just 46 career tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and two sacks — but he's got potential to become even better.
Urban has overcome a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and a broken wrist that kept him from lifting weights at full strength for nearly six months during his college career.
Moving from 3-4 scheme defensive end to 4-3 defensive tackle, he's displayed a knack for batting down passes. He's got five of them this season alone, which puts him in the uncommon position of being a defensive tackle tied for second in the ACC in passes defended.
"Brent Urban has garnered the attention of every scout," said U.Va. coach Mike London regarding the opinions of scouts that have attended the Cavaliers' practices.
"He is definitely emerging as being — I'm just saying what the scouts are saying — definitely a guy moving up the radar and catching a lot of peoples' eyes."
In May, Urban was in the midst of finishing his senior thesis on slavery on U.Va.'s campus in the 19th century when he got a phone call. He'd been keeping up that day with the CFL draft on Twitter, but it wasn't his first priority.
Of course, Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach Kent Austin was hoping to make Urban pay closer attention to what the CFL might have to offer when he called Urban to tell him Hamilton had made him the 15th overall pick in the second round of the CFL draft. Hamilton holds rights to Urban until the end of his college eligibility, but he has greater ambitions.
"It's nice to kind of have that as your backup plan," Urban said. "If I am so lucky to be able to play in the NFL for however many years, I can maybe go to the CFL after."
Norm Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642