Football sees changes, excitement ahead of Spring Festival

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Coach Bronco Mendenhall looks for his team to show improvement to the many onlookers and Virginia's Spring Game on Saturday.

Lauren Hornsby | Cavalier Daily

After Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s dismal 2-10 first season at the helm of the Virginia football program, plenty of changes have come this spring. This Saturday, the Cavaliers are set to host their Spring Football Festival, which consists of a practice open to fans that marks the culmination of spring practice. However, looking ahead to the final practice, the team has experienced several changes to the program.

Just this past weekend, Virginia football saw a flurry of new commitments for the Class of 2018 — picking up four commitments in just three days. First, the Cavaliers received two new commitments from down south in Florida. Wide receiver Tavares Kelly, a three-star recruit and the No. 85 wide receiver in the nation, committed to Virginia from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale. Outside linebacker Case Gatlin from IMG Academy in Bradenton is unranked, but he is the third linebacker to be recruited so far for the 2018 class.

The Cavaliers picked up another out-of-state recruit when offensive tackle Joseph Bissinger, a three-star prospect from Memorial High School in Houston, Texas, announced his commitment Sunday. The Cavaliers added another offensive tackle with the commitment of Will Lawrence from Harding Academy of Memphis in Memphis, Tenn. Lawrence might be the best recruit Virginia has gotten yet for its 2018 class — he is rated as a three-star and has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and more.

While Virginia has picked up several additions this offseason, the team will also have a number of departures. So far, six players with eligibility remaining have announced their transfers from the program, including sophomore linebackers Matt Terrell, Landon Word and Cory Jones. Out of the three sophomores, Word was projected to start next season as an inside linebacker. Virginia also lost two defensive ends with the announcement that senior Brendan Marshall and sophomore Naji Abdullah would be transferring. Abdullah appeared in two games last season, and Marshall had one year of eligibility remaining.

Junior wide receiver David Eldridge also announced he would be transferring out of the program. Eldridge appeared in 11 of Virginia’s 12 games last year — finishing with eight catches and two touchdowns. Although the Bealeton, Va. native would have seen action next season, the Cavaliers still have nine other receivers on the roster.

Despite some losses for the program, the exciting announcements on the 2018 recruiting trail have kept Virginia football in high hopes throughout spring practice. In this last week heading towards the Spring Football Festival, the Cavaliers had a special visitor oversee practice as former Oregon Coach Chip Kelly arrived in Charlottesville Monday. Kelly has also taken on head coaching stints in the NFL, coaching for the Philadelphia Eagles and most recently the San Francisco 49ers. Mendenhall has been trying to implement a faster style of offense, and there’s no better coach representative of a dynamic offensive style than Kelly. During Tuesday’s practice, Kelly looked over the offense during drills and even wore the headset to call a few plays. Following practice, Kelly spoke to the team, imparting his wisdom.

The Cavaliers will hope to continue their positive momentum from spring practice into Saturday’s Spring Football Festival and into the fall. Activities for the event begin at 1 p.m. and practice begins at 3 p.m. 

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