Taulapapa in position to make bigger impact at UVA

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- When forced onto the field last season, Wayne Taulapapa had to co-opt the jersey number of an injured teammate. This year, Taulapapa has a jersey number he hopes to make his own.

The rising sophomore running back was one of 36 Virginia football players who earned the right to select a jersey number on Sunday night. Taulapapa will wear No. 21, which belonged to defensive back Juan Thornhill the previous four seasons.

Taulapapa didn't earn a jersey number last season, but he did earn a varsity letter at UVA as a true freshman. Wearing No. 7 but without his name on the back -- the number belonged to safety Chris Moore, who picked it last summer but didn't appear in a game because of an injury -- Taulapapa appeared in seven games on special teams.

"More so last year was kind of a progress year for me, especially coming back from the mission," said Taulapapa, a Hawaii native who originally signed with UVA in 2016 but delayed the start of his college career for two years while on an LDS mission to Nicaragua. "There was a lot of things that I had to do to get fundamentally sound within football, kind of how to learn to play football again. And so just kind of earning my way and earning my reps, a little at a time."

This summer, Taulapapa is competing to take over for Jordan Ellis as the Cavaliers' top running back. The 5-9 Taulapapa ran for a pair of touchdowns in UVA's spring game, and ended the spring as UVA's No. 1 running back. His competition in camp includes juniors PK Kier and Lamont Atkins -- who both got to select jersey numbers on Sunday as well -- and true freshman Mike Hollins.

"I've been back for a year now," Taulapapa said. "Fundamentally, it's coming together. The strength is back, the speed is back. And so hopefully we can capitalize within games."

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