Virginia opens training camp with 'excitement, energy'

Aug 2, 2023
CHARLOTTESVILLE—One day after Virginia was picked to finish last in its league, there was no evidence anything could put a damper on the eagerness of the Cavaliers as they embarked on the start of a new training camp.
These Hoos have more to play for, and on Wednesday’s warm-and-breezy afternoon, they were determined to make most of their first preseason practice.
“If we work harder than anyone else, then we’re going to like the outcome,” Cavaliers fifth-year senior safety Antonio Clary said afterward.
They hustled from one drill to the next, emphasized fundamentals and were inspired from the top of the session when running back Mike Hollins — a survivor of last November’s tragic shooting on Grounds that killed three teammates — led the team through jumping jacks.
“We’re playing for a lot, obviously,” Clary continued, “and you can see it in practice. Everyone is bought in and we’re all excited for the season.”
Second-year UVa coach Tony Elliott said he needed to address with his Hoos about being tabbed for a 14th-place finish in the ACC, but he isn’t sweating it.
“Truth be told,” Elliott said, “we can’t be externally motivated, right? So, if our only motivation is where somebody picked us in the poll, then, you know what, we’re not going to have the proper competitive stamina because then we’re working to the circumstance and situation as opposed to, ‘What do we believe we’re capable of?’”
And this squad, at the very least, believes in itself, especially when looking back at Elliott’s first day of training camp a year ago and noticing the development since then during Wednesday’s initial session of this preseason.
“For me, personally, I was a lot less tired [this time],” defensive end Kam Butler said with a smile. “I already expected what the practice was going to be like and some of the drills we were going to do, and I think that’s seen throughout the entire defense. We’re a really experienced group from top to bottom, so I think our leaders have done a good job expressing to the younger guys and some of the guys rising that, ‘This is what to expect’ as well as ‘This is how we’re going to practice and how we’re going to do things,’ so I thought it was really good.”
Defensive coordinator John Rudzinski, who guided UVa to significant improvement on that side of the ball last year, started his defense with a pursuit drill in which he demanded the first-, second- and third-team defenses to sprint on and off the field between tracking and chasing where a potential ball-carrier would be. And there was no wasted movement because, like Butler pointed out, the Cavaliers are veteran on defense and return eight starters — including all four on the D-Line — and have fourth-, fifth- and sixth-year players to set the tone for the rest of the unit.
“And I think a lot of it is the growth that’s already taken place just from a program standpoint,” said Elliott, who noted the practice was crisp, lasting only an hour and 51 minutes.
“Everyone is understanding the structure of practice,” he said, “and we’ve still got some things we can get better as coaches from an organizational and communication standpoint, but I think that’s growth you see and now what you have a chance to do is coach the details, coach the core values as opposed to the big-picture and program-practice structure.”
Elliott bounced around the practice field, too, providing instruction to some of the Cavaliers’ wide receivers early in the workout. The Hoos are replacing almost all of their receiving production from the last two seasons, so when he barked out, “keep your shoulders square, let’s go,” to a few pass-catchers running deep routes, they made sure to listen as they hauled in passes from quarterback Tony Muskett.
The signal-caller floated a few long throws with excellent touch, and redshirt freshman receiver Dakota Twitty made an outstretched grab as he sprinted past Elliott to earn a few claps of encouragement from the headman.
The receiver spot isn’t the Cavaliers’ most glaring issue, though. That’s the offensive line, but on Wednesday, first-year position coach Terry Heffernan had his O-Linemen doing a drill during the individual period that they didn’t do a year ago. They task forced them to prioritize pad level while pushing a weighted sled, perhaps, with the idea that it’ll translate to improved run blocking.
Last week, Heffernan said he’d shuffle around personnel until players win jobs at their respective positions. And after practice on Wednesday, Elliott said the coaching staff would be able to get a better evaluation of the offensive line this month as opposed to this time last year when they didn’t have enough numbers at the position.
UVa added transfers Ugonna Nnanna, Jimmy Christ and Brian Stevens to the roster during the offseason.
“The amount of depth that we have allows for more reps,” Elliott said. “And then the guys can better through the reps, so we’re taking it slow and steady.”
As for the whole team, though, Elliott and his players ended Day 1 impressed by what they saw.
“It went good,” running back Kobe Pace, a transfer from Clemson, said. “I’m happy to get back on the grass with all my teammates, and seeing us flying around makes my heart warm up.”
Said Elliott: “Lot of excitement. Lot of energy. With the guys, you could tell they wanted to be back on the practice field.”

Latest Player Notes

How a Wisconsin legend got his German protégé into Badgers pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Marlon Werthmann put his life on hold for the opportunity in front of him Friday at the McClain Center.Werthmann ...

Why former Wisconsin football running back Braelon Allen didn't run the 40 at pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Braelon Allen’s sweat covered his shirt and dripped off his beard as he approached a group of reporters Friday.The ...

How can UW recruit its best class ever? It starts with these five prospects

By Andy Yamashita Seattle Times staff reporter Jedd Fisch has lofty recruiting goals at Washington. He didn’t waste any ...

Texas football kicks off spring practice Tuesday. We answer 24 questions for the 2024 team

Things certainly look fresh for the 2024 college football season, especially on the Texas campus.There’s a new conference ...

College Football Playoff: Conferences solve their differences (for now) and agree on general framework for 2026 and beyond

The FBS conferences and Notre Dame agreed on Friday to continue the College Football Playoff beyond the 2025 season, signing ...

Ball security, leadership key as Aztecs look to identify starting quarterback

San Diego State seemingly auditions a new starting quarterback on an annual basis.In the past 12 years, the Aztecs have opened ...

Results and more: A look at what happened at Penn State football’s Pro Day inside Holuba Hall

Most of those at Penn State’s Pro Day Friday were relatively quiet throughout the afternoon’s workouts, but there was one ...

Defense dominates first two weeks of Oregon State spring practice as Beavers ready for 2-week breather

CORVALLIS – Oregon State hit the break of spring practices Saturday, not exactly the midpoint but a good place to assess ...

Dillon Gabriel to have similar input, autonomy as Bo Nix had in Oregon’s offense

Published Mar. 16, 2024, 6:26 p.m.By James CrepeaEUGENE — Dillon Gabriel will have much of the same autonomy as Bo Nix did ...

Two transfers, one underclassman who impressed in Missouri football's spring game

With that, spring camp’s a wrap.Missouri football held its Black & Gold spring game Saturday in front of a healthy crowd ...
See More Player Notes