Former 'Hoos proud to be part of turnaround

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- This year, Matt Johns won't be home for the holidays. And he's okay with that.

"This is my first Christmas in 25 years that I won't be home, and it's very exciting," Johns said after Virginia football practice at the McCue Center on Saturday. "Because it's kind of the start of what Virginia is going to see hopefully for a long, long time."

The former UVA quarterback, Johns is in his first season as a graduate assistant coach with the Cavaliers. Joining him on the Wahoos' grad assistant staff are two of his former college teammates, Jackson Matteo and Kirk Garner. Garner is also in his first year coaching, while Matteo is in his second season.

Matteo, who played center on the offensive line, and Johns were teammates at UVA for five seasons. Both arrived and redshirted in 2012, played the next three seasons for former coach Mike London, then finished their careers on Bronco Mendenhall's first UVA team in 2016. A defensive back, Garner arrived a season later, and was a fifth-year senior on last year's team that finished 6-7 after a loss to NAvy in the Military Bowl, though an injury kept Garner sidelined for practically the full season.

This year's UVA team is 7-5 heading into next weekend's game against South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. It's the first winning season for the program since 2011, the year before Johns and Matteo arrived. The Cavaliers combined to win just 15 games in their five seasons in the locker room, including a pair of two-wins seasons in 2013 and 2016.

Matteo was reminded of those down seasons during a recent conversation with UVA sophomore outside linebacker Charles Snowden.

"I'm just so happy that they get to experience that. Because that's exactly why you play when you're 2-10. Or when you're 2-9 and you have one game left," Matteo said. "That's exactly why you give everything that you can."

"It's going to matriculate down to somebody. Someday, someone is going to reap the benefits of hard work. And now this coaching staff, this team, this community is reaping the benefits of that."

Johns ranks 11th in UVA history with 4,233 career passing yards, and sixth in touchdown passes with 30. But he went just 6-11 in his 17 career starts at quarterback. He spent last football season coaching at his high school in Pennsylvania, while the Cavaliers snapped the program's six-year postseason bowl drought.

He'll get that first-hand bowl experience when the Wahoos leave for Charlotte after practicing at the McCue Center on Christmas Day.

"The guys are really anxious, and it's really cool to kind of see it turn," Johns said. "I was here when we weren't doing so well, and then was here when the new coaching staff came. And now to see it come to fruition is really exciting."

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