Cavaliers buying in before first fall camp under Tony Elliott
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- When Tony Elliott wrapped spring practice, he gathered players around midfield and issued a challenge to the remaining Cavaliers to jump in with "two-feet".
Following a summer of conditioning, Elliott feels the buy in has continued with his adopted Virginia roster, but the real test is ahead.
"In the offseason I believe I've seen more of that," Elliott said, "I'm anxious to see when we put the pads on and we start practicing and then now competition really comes into play and the depth chart starts to define itself, hopefully those guys will stay two-feet in.
"They love to play, that's what they want to do, everybody wants to play and I want to play them as much as you can, but only 11 can run out there."
Elliott took over a UVA team which had lost more than ten players to the transfer portal before the spring. After his message leading into the summer, the roster mainly stayed intact and even saw a few players on the fence take the final plunge into the program Elliott and staff are building.
Players like Aaron Faumui, who was at one time in the transfer portal, and Keytaon Thompson were specifically challenge by Elliott at the end of the spring and have answered the bell as leaders for the program this offseason.
"We were talking about it the other night at the staff party just how these guys are starting to come together, understanding the concept of team," Elliott said, "A guy that I'm extremely proud of is Aaron Faumui, he's a guy that I challenged right out the gate because I knew he's an alpha dog and I needed to challenge him, same reason with [Keytaon Thompson], he laughs about it now, but I knew KT was an alpha dog. I'm proud of those two guys for their leadership, I mean Brennan [Armstrong] is Brennan, Nick [Jackson] is Nick, you know what you're going to get."
Success stories are slow to come typically for a any coach, especially a first year coaching as Elliott can attest to after a former Clemson defensive player called last week thanking him. But a name at the forefront for nearly every coach after the offseason was defensive lineman Ben Smiley, who Elliott can point to as another example of a player buying into the program.
"I talked about him earlier, Ben Smiley, for Ben Smiley to now be a guy that the previous staff knew was talented, but wasn't sure his commitment level," Elliott said, "Now he's getting B's in his classes, he's doing well academically, he looks better, he's just completely bought in and so that's a testament to Coach [Kevin] Downing and Coach [Chris] Slade, they've helped him develop."
The already present leadership in players like Armstrong and Jackson, along with early success stories like Faumui and Smiley show a pathway for the rest of the roster entering fall camp.
"You're seeing guys are starting to follow and respect and buy into the guys that are doing it right," Elliott said, "When you have that kind of culture in your program then you have a chance to be successful. So you're seeing that the leadership is emerging and the guys are being squeezed and pushed towards following the guys that are doing it right."