Wahoos will welcome back London on Friday

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- For a handful of fifth-year seniors on the Virginia football team like defensive lineman Eli Hanback, Friday night's home opener is about more than facing William and Mary.

"It is kind of hard to ignore the fact that Coach London is their coach. He's kind of the reason I'm here," Hanback said Wednesday morning after practice. "I've been a UVA fan my whole life, and he gave me a chance to come here and play, and be a part of something great here at UVA."

"He's the only reason that I'm at UVA," said another fifth-year defensive lineman, Richard Burney. "So win or lose, however the game goes, after the game I'm going to show my appreciation, show my gratitude for him."

There are a half-dozen players left on the Cavaliers' roster -- running back Chris Sharp, tight end Tanner Cowley, wide receiver Ben Hogg and linebacker Reed Kellam are the others -- who played on London's final UVA team in 2015.

UVA's coaching staff includes three graduate assistants who played for London -- Jackson Matteo, Kirk Garner and CJ Stalker -- and one holdover from the previous coaching staff. Marques Hagans, the Wahoos' wide receivers coach, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under London in 2011.

"I wouldn't be in the coaching profession if it wasn't for him," Hagans said. "He believed in me, and sought me out even when I believed coaching wasn't what I wanted to do next. And I actually turned him down a couple times, because I didn't think coaching was what I wanted to do."

London won 27 games in six seasons as UVA's head coach. His tenure ended after a 4-8 performance in 2015. Four years later, Bronco Mendenhall's team is the preseason pick to win the ACC Coastal Division.

"Coach Mendenhall and Coach London are two different coaches," Hanback said. "And honestly, it's kind of hard to remember what it was like with Coach London."

"The culture has been built, a different type of culture," said Burney. "And just becoming closer with the guys that I came in with, and becoming closer with other members of the team. And just the experience. That's been the biggest part for me."

London's William and Mary staff also includes six former UVA players, as well as former UVA assistant Vincent Brown. So there will be plenty of familiarity on both sidelines on Friday night.

"We know exactly what's at stake. They want to win; we want to win. And only one team can do that," said Hagans. "I'm rooting for them every game of the season except this one."