Virginia moves forward with a chip on their shoulder
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Only 82 days have passed since the last time Virginia was on the field at Scott Stadium, but the two months since have felt like years as Tony Elliott and the program move forward after tragedy.
"For the coaches it never really stopped for us. We live at such a fast pace that we're always going so our minds never shut off," Elliott said, "You were a little bit nervous about how [the players] were going to come back, but I'll tell you what they've come back with a great spirit, a renewed spirit."
The buy-in Elliott pushed for last season is there with players returning with a greater motivation following the loss of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D'Sean Perry. At the team's end of season banquet, Elliott revealed the No. 1, No. 15 and No. 41 jerseys will have patches on them with each of Devin, Lavel and D'Sean's names, so “whenever the jerseys are on the field those guys will be honored.” Elliott also said a group was formed to discuss other ways the program can honor those players moving forward next season.
Players are back on Grounds going through off-season conditioning after the 30-day break. Among them running back Mike Hollins, who has progressed well following the shooting and working out with "limited restrictions" according to Tony Elliott with the possibility of being "turned loose" when spring practice starts in March.
"The guys are upbeat, you walk in the locker room, man there's smiles on their face, they're working hard," Elliott said, "The guys have really bought into that where we want to go it's going to take intensity and attention to detail."
Veterans like Brennan Armstrong have moved on, transferring to Virginia's opponent in their ACC opener NC State. While Nick Jackson remains enrolled at UVA and looking at his options in the portal, but Elliott says coaches Clint Sintim and John Rudzinski have maintained communication with Jackson.
Familiar faces like assistants Garett Tujague, now the offensive line coach at NC State, and Marques Hagans, now the wide receivers coach at Penn State have also left. Elliott recently completed his coaching staff hiring former Stanford offensive line coach Terry Heffernan and promoting offensive analyst Adam Mims to wide receivers coach.
Elliott hoped to keep Hagans around moving forward, but after 12 seasons Hagans made the move for a new opportunity and to reunite with close friend Anthony Poindexter.
"I became a better person being around Marques and just the quality individual that he is and the way he lives his life," Elliott said, "The conversation is probably similar to the conversations that I had when I was at Clemson for 11 years. Biggest conversation for him it was about an opportunity to grow outside of this environment to accept a new challenge."
Elliott has also spent time reevaluating his approach as a first year coach from gameday operations to coaching style.
"As hard as year one has been, it's what was supposed to happen, it was what was supposed to happen so the growth could take place," Elliott said, "I think how the season ended and everything that we went through I think it was a reset for all of us just in terms of our appreciation for the opportunity, our appreciation for life."
A month away from spring practice and seven months from the season opener in Nashville against Tennessee, the Cavaliers move forward with a chip.
"To be honest we got a lot to prove, so we got a big chip on our shoulder and at the end of the day the work has to get done and we have to prepare to continue to move forward," Elliott said, "For me I've always had a chip on my shoulder, just background, wanting to prove not necessarily everybody wrong, but prove myself right in what I believe."