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Elliott, Virginia open 2024 spring football: ‘Just excited to be on the grass’

Chris Graham
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Photo: UVA Athletics

Spring football kicked off for Virginia coach Tony Elliott’s program on Tuesday, and that things are relatively low-key for Elliott heading into the start of Year 3 is just fine with him.

“The focus has been more on preparation for spring practice, whereas last year, we didn’t know what it was going to be like, you know, we were preparing for the unknown,” said Elliott, who, this time last year, was still bringing his team back from the events of Nov. 13, 2022, the mass shooting that led to the deaths of three members of his program – Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.

Everything about the 2023 season, from winter conditioning workouts, spring practice, training camp in the summer and then the games in the fall, was a first something since Nov. 13.

Not that you ever want to forget those kids, but it’s kind of nice that 2024 is, kinda, sorta normal.

There is some light pressure on Elliott to get things moving forward from an on-the-field perspective after back-to-back three-win seasons.

It’s not as if, in Year 3, Elliott is yet on a hot seat, but it might be good to see even minor progress in terms of wins and losses – for example, in the direction of bowl eligibility – to keep the seat from getting hotter heading into Year 4.

To that end, Elliott will have the most stability with his offensive and defensive lines that he’s had in his tenure, and with a good haul of talent coming in across the position groups from the transfer portal, there really aren’t many holes.

“I think we’ve made strides procedurally, you know, guys going in the right direction, but we got to improve fundamentally, we got to improve from a ball security standpoint,” said Elliott, for whom the focus in the spring will be getting his players and staff to “really embrace the identity of who we want to be as a football team.”

“We want to play fast, we want to be intelligent, we want to be tough, so those are things that I’m working on,” Elliott said. “Scheme, you know, we’re gonna get some work at it, but right now we’re not scheming against each other. We’re working on, you know, the core offense and defense, special teams, that we want to carry into the season.

“I just want to see this team come together, because we got the bulk of our team here, you know, there’s only a couple of guys that’ll be joining us in the summer,” Elliott said. “So, I want to see these guys really start to become a unified team, all pulling in the same direction, leadership emerge. Because at the end of the day, the best teams that I’ve been around are led from the locker room up, and that’s really what I’m focusing on.”

Day 1 of spring practice is, in essence, Day 1 of the football season. You get 15 practices over the next month, culminating in a spring game on April 20.

Day 1 is the start of, one day at a time, building toward the summer.

“Still got you know, first day things that you got to clean up, and the installs aren’t gonna marry up, because the defense is working in their core stuff, the offense is working in their core stuff. But I thought overall, the tempo was really good,” Elliott said. “Guys are moving around. You saw that the core values carried over. Still got to teach a little bit of that to some of the new guys. But man, I was just excited to be on the grass.”

Elliott will go into the spring, and probably into training camp in July, with a battle for the QB1 job between grad senior Tony Muskett, the Week 1 starter last fall, and Anthony Colandrea, who made six starts as a true freshman after Muskett went down twice with injuries.

The QB room also added depth through the transfer portal with the addition of former New Mexico State quarterback Gavin Frakes, who made five starts as a true freshman in 2022 before redshirting last season.

“It was good to see Tony out there, and man, he’s full go, you know, throwing the ball, looking good, so I was excited,” Elliott said. “Now, you know, we got to protect him. He can’t take any contact at all this spring, but when he’s in there, no restrictions in terms of what he’s able to do. We just got to make sure that there’s no contact.”

It’s a good problem to have, having three guys with experience as starters at the FBS level.

That’s three more than Elliott and offensive coordinator Des Kitchings had in training camp last summer.

“Watching (Muskett) continue to develop his leadership skills and command of the offense, and then really see Colandrea, you know, take that next step, just in terms of completing his game, because I think we all know what he’s capable of just from the pure talent standpoint, so, watch him take that next evolution, so, I’m excited about, you know, where they are from a competition standpoint,” Elliott said.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].