New standard, new mentality

As football’s spring season comes to a close, the Cavaliers embrace effort and hard work

sp-Mendenhall

With two seasons under Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s belt, the team has taken a big step towards learning how to play with the work ethic that Mendenhall demands. 

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

When Bronco Mendenhall accepted the position of Virginia head football coach in December 2015, it was pretty clear that he planned to implement a new standard. 

In his introductory press conference, Mendenhall said he was an effort-based coach and that he believed the skills, development and proper execution would come only after the team learned to truly work hard. 

It seems that this spring, with two seasons under Mendenhall’s belt, the team has taken a big step towards learning how to play with the work ethic that Mendenhall demands. 

“[The team is] significantly different, not only physically but mentally,” Mendenhall said after the first spring practice of 2018. “We played 17 first years this past year, which was the fourth most in college football. And that basically was our first recruiting class — the ‘17s. So we’re young, we’re youthful, but this team only knows our culture. Or those players only know our culture, our expectations. And so yeah, it’s different physically, but it’s also — I would say — different from a mindset standpoint.”

With one last weekend of spring football left, the different mindset has been embraced on all fronts. Even little changes, such as no longer practicing with music because the team “plans to make” their “own music” according to Mendenhall, have all played a part in the new standard of Virginia football that calls for success through effort.   

“I think what Coach Mendenhall is doing [is] teaching us how to be, and teaching everyone how to be winners, and how to finish and how to compete and how to give maximum effort,” special teams coordinator Ricky Brumfield told Virginia Sports TV. “And I think that if we can get the guys to play with pride and passion, then we’re going to be pretty good.”

Another sign that the team is going to be pretty good next year is the way that junior Bryce Perkins has been excelling in the quarterback position. Perkins — a transfer from Arizona Western Community College — is a dual threat quarterback with an undeniable athleticism.

“He’s dynamic,” Mendenall said. “He’s fast. He’s athletic. He’s dynamic. And it does not seem like the game or the pace is too fast for him.”

In addition to Perkins, there is true freshman Brennan Armstrong — who plays similarly to Perkins — and rising sophomore Lindell Stone, who is more of a drop-back quarterback. Armstrong and Stone will likely compete to to be the No.2 quarterback for next year. 

“Obviously Bryce and Brennan bring an incredible dynamic flare to our offensive, if you will,” offensive line coach Garrett Tujague said to Virginia Sports TV. “Both of their athletic abilities adding to the offense has been a great breath of fresh air.”

Given that Virginia finished last in scoring offense and last in rushing offense among ACC teams, the team is definitely in need of a breath of fresh air. In addition to the new running threat that Perkins brings, the rest of the offense has been dedicating an incredible amount of spring training to improving their running game. 

“The progress we’ve made up until this date has been good, but obviously not satisfied because it’s not great yet,” Tujague said. “The difference I would tell you is the willingness and the desire to compete, the desire to take the field, those things are improving every day … Constantly working on the effort every day.”

“The number one thing that I’m pushing for is winning that individual block,” Tujague added. “Doing your job as an individual and then with 11 guys on the field, if one guy does his job right and is exactly where he’s supposed to be, that puts us nine percent closer to being successful. Then we stack another guy and that’s 18 percent ... Strong individuals make for a strong team.”

On the defensive side, junior linebacker Jordan Mack will take over the position that All-American linebacker Micah Kiser held this past season. Although seeing Kiser graduate is a big loss for Virginia, Mack has been embracing his new role and doing well in leading the defense that returns eight starters. Other defensive players that have been looking solid this spring season are rising junior cornerback Bryce Hall, who has fully recovered from a knee surgery he underwent after the Military Bowl, rising sophomore linebacker Charles Snowden and rising sophomore defensive end Mandy Alonso. 

All of these improvements that have stemmed from a spring full of hard work will conclude with a practice open to the public on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Scott Stadium. Though the last spring practice is traditionally a full game, injuries and lack of numbers have made that impossible this year. However, there’s no doubt that the new standard and new mentality of hard work will be on full display on Saturday. 

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