Family ties unite UVa football and hoops

Virginia kicker Alec Vozenilek is prepared to lose sleep over the NCAA tournament -- literally.

With his younger brother, Rob, a junior walk-on guard for the No. 1- seeded Hoos, playing against one of their best friends and the starting center for No. 16-seeded Coastal Carolina on Friday night, Vozenilek is going to do everything he possibly can on Friday afternoon to drive from Charlottesville, Va., to Raleigh, N.C., to see the 9:25 p.m. ET tipoff.

And then drive back four hours for spring football practice at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.

And then turn around again for what he hopes will be a second tourney game for Virginia.

Talk about family ties.

Vozenilek, one of five children, also has an extended family -- one comprised of foreign exchange students who lived with the Vozenileks at their home in Richmond. (One summer, Vozenilek says, there were nine kids living in their house.) Coastal Carolina starting center El Hadji Ndieguene, of Senegal, spent two years with the family and became so close to them that parents Tom and Betty Baugh Vozenilek skipped Virginia’s hoops game against Syracuse -- one of the biggest games of the season -- to drive eight hours to attend Ndieguene’s Senior Night at Coastal Carolina.

“It’s really ironic and amazing that Virginia ended up playing Coastal in the NCAA tournament,” Alec said. “My dad was trying to figure out how he was going to fly to watch El Hadji play and fly to see Rob. It was getting complicated. We were sitting in the car on the way back from Greensboro, and we had a wireless hotspot set up in the van, we had the TV on and were listening on the radio, and we were like, ‘Oh my God. We’re about to get matched up against Coastal Carolina.’ Really, he’s a part of the family.”

And they’ll all be reunited Friday night in Raleigh -- yet another road trip in the books for the sports-loving family.

Betty played tennis at North Carolina, and Tom played tennis at Pacific Lutheran. Basketball, though, was the first sport both Alec and Rob fell in love with. They trained together throughout high school, used the facilities at the University of Richmond, and spent countless hours travelling to AAU basketball games together throughout the Richmond area. With two younger brothers and a younger sister -- plus the rotation of foreign exchange students -- the average minivan wouldn’t cut it.

They call it their “limo van,” a 15-passenger Ford van that had all of the back seats removed to make room for a luxury ride. There’s a table in the middle, with six reclining bucket seats and a TV. The whole family piled in to travel to the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., last week, where Virginia captured the school’s first league title since 1976.

It’s a non-stop schedule, as Rob and the rest of the family go to all of the home football games to watch Alec, who in turn finds his family at every home basketball game to watch Rob. The years of dedication are now paying off.

While Rob gets to experience the NCAA tournament, Alec is entering his second season as the Cavaliers’ starting punter and placekicker.

Last season he averaged 41.2 yards per punt, which ranked No. 9 in the ACC. He had 13 punts of more than 50 yards, and led the ACC with 23 punts inside the 20. He made 12 of 15 field goal attempts, including the final six of the season.

“I definitely think it’s been humbling, seeing everything that we did in high school at such a young age paying off for both of us,” Alec said. “I think we really owe a lot to our parents for giving us the opportunities, and our high school had a great strength and conditioning program, great facilities, really just pushing us. We owe a lot to each other, just for every time we were tired and didn’t want to work out or do whatever, we pushed each other to the next level. I definitely appreciate that from him. I really think that’s why this has all panned out the way it has.”

Some things are worth losing sleep over.