CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- There's no doubt who veteran Virginia football players like Eli Hanback and Bryce Hall are rooting for on Super Bowl Sunday.
"I've got nothing but respect for the Patriots. They're competitors. They want to win," Hanback, a rising redshirt senior defensive lineman, said Wednesday morning. "But I've got to pull for the Rams. Pull for Micah."
"Micah was probably one of the best leaders that we've had since I've been here," agreed Hall, a rising senior cornerback. "That's my dude."
All-American inside linebacker Micah Kiser left Virginia after the 2017 season fifth in program history with 408 career tackles. He started all 37 games his final three UVA seasons, and led the ACC in tackles in each.
Kiser also served as a team captain in each of his final two college seasons, acting as a veteran leader as head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff arrived to rebuild the UVA program -- and its culture.
"I really looked up to him, because he was one of those dudes who was authentic," Hall said. "He was real. He was going to tell you how he felt, no matter how hard it may have been."
"He helped set what we call our 'New Standard' of total effort, said Hanback. "On the field he walked the walk and talked the talk."
"He was always making critical plays," said Hall. "He was making plays, so it wasn't like he was telling other people to do this or that, and then he himself wasn't doing the right things. On the field, he was that type of alpha male, making the plays and calling out the defense."
Kiser was a fifth round pick by the Los Angeles Rams last April He has spent most of his rookie season on special teams, appearing in every game for the NFC champions and logging four tackles.
Kiser missed UVA's eight-win season in 2018, which was capped by last month's shutout victory over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. But his former teammates say Kiser still had a big influence on the Cavaliers' locker room.
"Micah held us to a very high standard as a defense," Hanback said. "And I think that carried over with Chris Peace, myself. Jordan Mack, Bryce Hall, Juan. All those older guys, I think we held each other to that standard that Micah helped create."
"When this culture was just starting, when we were just building something new, it took people like him to be able to lead through all those, like, even through the 2-10 season," said Hall. "Help lead a change-around, coming back to our first bowl win in however many years it was. He was a huge part in that."