CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Running back Jordan Ellis wasn't just Virginia's leading rusher the past two seasons. UVA also has to replace the player who earned the first choice of jersey numbers in each of the past three preseasons.
"I think it'll be interesting to see," said UVA junior outside linebacker Charles Snowden. "I've talked to different guys around the locker room. Everyone has kind of a different opinion of who they think will have the first pick. And so JE being the three-time first pick champion, now that that void is there, I think it'll be pretty interesting."
When Bronco Mendenhall arrived as head coach in the spring of 2016, he took all of the numbers off the Cavaliers' practice jerseys. Each preseason, players have to earn the right pick a number, and it's their teammates who decide who gets to pick.
"Man, in past years, it's been two- or three-hour deliberations by our team leaders, trying to sort out what order and who," Mendenhall said.
"I feel like all the guys look forward to it. Because I mean, spring ball, you have no numbers. Fall camp, first week, no one has numbers," said junior inside linebacker Robert Snyder. "And it's really cool, because it's all about your peers. None of the coaches give any of the things. The captains are the ones that choose it."
Mendenhall came up with the idea when he got to UVA. It has become a preseason tradition for the program -- and one that Mendenhall admits has been more effective than he expected.
"More effective in the context of building a program and restoring a program with a timetable as fast as possible," said Mendenhall. "I think it's built our culture of earned not given."
UVA's win total has grown from two to six to eight in Mendenhall's first three years. Last month, the Wahoos were picked to win the ACC's Coastal Division this season.
But none of that culture building may have happened if UVA players hadn't embraced the concept of competing for jersey numbers. The Wahoos admit that it can provide a little extra off-season motivation.
"There could be a scenario where, if a guy's not working hard, somebody else could take his number because he outworked him," said senior defensive lineman Richard Burney. "So it really keeps the players on their toes."
"Yeah, we've been pretty competitive. Me and Tyler (Fannin) are going back and forth about our numbers right now," said sophomore offensive lineman Ryan Swoboda. "I think it's a respect thing. I think you earn everybody's respect, and then you get a number. So I think it's a good little reward afterward, and it's gratifying to get that."
"Even if they have the same number, it matters to them to be acknowledged by their peers again, and endorsed by their peers, to be on our team at that level," said Mendenhall. "And I didn't expect that, but it's really fun. It's one of my favorite nights of the year."