Home For Mike Hollins, returning to football is about more than just playing football 

For Mike Hollins, returning to football is about more than just playing football 

Scott German
tony elliott mike hollins
Photo: UVA Athletics

Just a few months after suffering gunshot injuries in the Nov. 13 shooting that killed three of his teammates, running back Mike Hollins took the field and played in Virginia’s spring game at Scott Stadium.

It was an inspiring moment for sure, for Hollins and his Cavalier teammates.

Friday, in the George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility, Hollins addressed the media and inspired again.

Leading up to the August training camp, ahead of Virginia’s season-opening Sept. 2 game against Tennessee, Hollins says this season he’s playing for God, his family and the local Charlottesville community.

“This is not just about football anymore, and it’s much bigger than me,” said Hollins.

To Hollins, football has now become a tool that he can use to build stronger relationships with his teammates, his professors, and the many people that have supported him in the past months.

“Football is not the end all, be all, it can’t be,” said Hollins.

Which is a lesson we all need to learn.

Hollins said that physically he felt ready to rejoin the Virginia team the moment the doctors removed the stitches from his stomach from the gunshot wound.

Physically, perhaps he was.

Emotionally, different story.

“I thought I was ready to go, but it was hard to come into these same walls, into this locker room, after seeing what I saw,” Hollins said.

Virginia will open fall camp Wednesday, and Hollins is back as a key component to the Cavalier rushing attack.

That fact alone should be huge for everyone that follows Virginia football.

It is for Hollins.

“It’s so much bigger than me now,” he said Friday, in what are his most detailed comments to date about the November tragedy, his recovery and ultimate return to playing football.

“Football as a whole has kind of shrunk, and when I say that, it’s like football is a vehicle to do so many other avenues in my eyes now,” added Hollins.

Last season, Hollins was listed as 208 pounds. Hollins says he lost almost 30 pounds to about 180. Even after the severe weight loss, Hollins said his confidence about returning to football never wavered.

“The physical part was the easy part,” he said.

Moving through the tragedy, processing what happened was a different story.

“It could’ve been easy, and everyone would’ve been OK with me not playing football this season or sitting out, or finding a way to just be a part of the team, but not participating,” Hollins said.

That option wasn’t something Hollins considered.

Mike Hollins means more to the Virginia program than being an inspirational leader.

He was before last November’s tragedy and will be this season.

Virginia head coach Tony Elliott said there was some uncertainty that Hollins would make it back to football. But he did, playing in the team’s spring game in April, where he scored a touchdown. That led to an emotional endzone tribute to his fallen teammates.

“I was erring on the side of caution, to be honest with you. They were telling me that he’s cleared to go, and I’m like, are we sure?” Elliott said.

In the shortened 2022 season in which the Cavaliers finished 3-7, Hollins started two games, rushing for 215 yards for the year, scoring twice, before the Cavaliers cancelled their final two games of their season.

In 2023, Hollins understands his role has changed to that of a leader, not just on the field, but off, as his teammates move through the process of moving forward.

“I’m a hero in some people’s eyes, and it’s something that I didn’t ask for to happen. I didn’t ask for any of it,” Hollins said.

“So, it’s kind of a weird feeling, being looked up to, something you didn’t ask for to happen to you, something you would have taken back in a heartbeat.”

Mike Hollins is learning that heroes are often ordinary people that make themselves extraordinary.

It’s a role he’s perfectly suited for.

Scott German

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.