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Looking at the Commonwealth Cup’s imprint on the NFL

The rivalry has seen new chapters written on football’s biggest stage as former Cavaliers and Hokies collaborate as teammates or reunite as competitors

<p>A multitude of Cavaliers and Hokies have found themselves sharing an NFL field as both teammates and opponents.&nbsp;</p>

A multitude of Cavaliers and Hokies have found themselves sharing an NFL field as both teammates and opponents. 

Virginia and Virginia Tech football have played almost annually since 1895, battling for bragging rights in the Commonwealth and, since 1996, competing for the Commonwealth Cup. During this time, both teams have seen some of their top players continue the rivalry in the National Football League. While a few players from each school have found their way onto the same team, others have seen themselves compete against each other on opposing teams, with each player looking to secure football’s greatest prize — a Lombardi Trophy. Currently in the NFL there are three teams that contain a pair of former Virginia Tech and Virginia players. 

The first pair is linebacker Micah Kiser and cornerback Kyle Fuller, who are defensive teammates on the Denver Broncos. Kiser attended Virginia and played inside linebacker, while Fuller played cornerback at Virginia Tech. 

Both players had major contributions in the Commonwealth Cup games during their college careers, each serving as anchors for their respective defenses. Kiser elevated his game recording 19 tackles in his final game of the rivalry in 2017, which was his career high. Additionally, Kiser had 14 tackles, a pass deflection and a forced fumble in 2016. On the other hand, Fuller had 17 tackles, two pass deflections and one forced fumble from the three games he participated in — though he played on the team from 2010-2014.

The two have joined forces in Denver after garnering accolades with their previous teams — Kiser won an NFC championship with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019, and Fuller earned All-Pro honors during the 2018 season when he played for the Chicago Bears. Kiser and Fuller have gone from rivals to teammates and now work in unison to help bolster a Broncos defense led by defensive mastermind Vic Fangio. 

Another pair of rivals turned teammates are former Virginia tight end Tony Poljan and former Virginia Tech defensive back Chuck Clark, who now play for the Baltimore Ravens. During his time as a Cavalier in 2020, Poljan registered six touchdowns in his one season at Virginia, which ranks him eighth all-time in receiving touchdowns as a tight end at Virginia. Against Virginia Tech, Polijan recorded 66 receiving yards and one touchdown in a 33-15 loss. Alternatively, as a defensive back, Clark registered 12 tackles and one interception in the 2015 edition of the rivalry, where Virginia Tech won 23-20. 

On the Ravens, Poljan has remained a tight end on the practice squad after signing as an undrafted free agent this year, while Clark has moved to safety after being drafted by the Ravens with the 186th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The duo looks to continue to help this Ravens team battle in a competitive AFC North division. 

The Chicago Bears also contain a pair of former rivals — former Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert and former Virginia outside linebacker Charles Snowden. As a Cavalier, Snowden is tied for 15th on the all-time sacks list with 15. In 2020, Snowden was 15th in the nation for tackles with a loss with 10. Unfortunately, Snowden did not play against the Hokies in 2020 due to injury, but he managed one sack and four tackles in 2019 when Virginia won the clash. In 2018, Snowden had two pass deflections, one interception and a forced fumble in a 34-31 overtime loss. With the Hokies, Herbert garnered second-team All-ACC honors in 2020, and although he only played in one Commonwealth Cup, he made it count — recording 162 rushing yards and a touchdown. 

The two rookies look to make an impact for this Bears team, with Herbert already recording a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers and his first 100-yard rushing game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Alternatively, Snowden is continuing to battle for a spot on the roster and has yet to record his first tackle. 

There have also been a few instances this season where a former Virginia Tech player and former Virginia player faced off against each other in the NFL. For example, former Cavalier wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus helped the Atlanta Falcons to a 27-25 win against former Virginia Tech placekicker Brian Johnson, who now plays for the New Orleans Saints. Zaccheaus recorded 58 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while Johnson made two field goals — one of them being a career-long 52 yards. 

Furthermore, the Los Angeles Chargers have two former Cavalier players in guard Oday Aboushi and wide receiver Joe Reed — though Reed is currently on the practice squad. This season, these former Cavaliers will face off twice against the Las Vegas Raiders, who have two former Hokies in linebacker Divine Deablo and cornerback Brandon Facyson. The Chargers already defeated the Raiders 28-14 in the first meeting on Oct. 4, and the two teams will face off a second time on Jan. 9. 

Along the same lines, former Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall and former Virginia Tech wide receiver Isaiah Ford will play each other twice this season. Hall is now a starter at the cornerback position for the New York Jets, and Ford is a key wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins. The two AFC East rivals will play each other on Nov. 21 and Dec. 19. 

While some old rivals have learned to collaborate as teammates and others have reignited the flame of the Commonwealth Cup on football’s biggest stage, seeing former Cavaliers and Hokies in the NFL is a special sight and brings about a whole new meaning to the Commonwealth Cup. Although Virginia and Virginia Tech only play once a year, both schools’ stellar alumni give us the chance to witness new chapters of the rivalry every NFL Sunday.

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