CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Ryan Nelson's eyes lit up when asked about blocking for Virginia sophomore running back Wayne Taulapapa.
"That's amazing to block for a guy like that," said Nelson, a redshirt sophomore offensive lineman for the Wahoos, said this week. "We talked about it this morning, and having a running back that's always going to fall forward, and Wayne's one of those guys. One guy is not going to bring Wayne down easily. He's going to keep going forward.
"It's an amazing feeling to block for someone who cares like that."
Taulapapa appeared in seven games for the Wahoos as a true freshman last season -- but all on special teams. Saturday's season opener at Pitt was Taulapapa's first time seeing the field on offense.
He finished the game with 66 yards on 10 carries. His final rush was a tough 10-yard run through the Pitt defense for his first career touchdown. The score iced the Wahoos' 30-14 win with 32 seconds left on the clock.
Taulapapa's 6.6 yard-per-carry average ranks sixth in the ACC through the first week of the season.
"Coming from special teams, it's a big change-up. But football is football. So I was really excited to help out the team in the way that I could," Taulapapa said after the win. "Emotions are high. I couldn't have asked for a better team to do it with, and a better offensive scheme."
A 2016 high school graduate who served a two-year LDS mission in Nicaragua before joining the UVA program, Taulapapa emerged this off-season as possibly UVA's best option to replace Jordan Ellis, the Cavaliers' leading rusher the past two seasons. Bronco Mendenhall named Taulapapa the Cavaliers' leader at the running back position after spring practice, and continued to praise the sophomore whenever asked about the running backs during preseason camp.
Taulapapa finished Saturday night second on the Cavaliers behind quarterback Bryce Perkins (18 carries for 70 yards) in both carries and rushing yards. Junior PK Kier was the Wahoos' other ball-carrier, finishing with 20 yards on five carries.
Mendenhall indicated on Monday that Taulapapa's performance against Pitt was a reminder of why he had emerged heading into the season.
"Rarely does the first player get him down, and it just seems like he's on the verge of getting out of a tackle or falling forward or stumbling ahead. And he tries hard," Mendenhall said. "I think his vision and I think his will, besides his ability, all contribute."