Home Return of Antonio Clary for a sixth year adds to depth for UVA secondary

Return of Antonio Clary for a sixth year adds to depth for UVA secondary

Chris Graham
uva antonio clary
Photo: UVA Athletics

Antonio Clary is back for a sixth year at Virginia. His fifth year, marred by injury, may end up being a blessing in disguise.

“I’ve never missed this much time, like, I’ve never had this much time off of football,” said Clary, a preseason third-team All-ACC selection who never got on the field for the Cavaliers in 2023, after an ankle injury in training camp that turned out to be torn ligaments that ended up requiring surgery.

The decision was made to shut down for the fall and to work ahead toward a sixth season, which forced him to slow down.

“I was able to just like, sit back, reflect, become more wise, learn the game like a coach,” said Clary, who last took the field on Nov. 12, 2022.

Clary’s return gives secondary coach Curome Cox a veteran back end with Clary teaming up at safety with senior Jonas Sanker, a first-team All-ACC pick in 2023, who had a team-leading 107 tackles, 11 pass breakups and a defense-leading 77.9 Pro Football Focus rating.

There’s a ton of veteran experience at cornerback, with head coach Tony Elliott adding three grad students from the transfer portal – former Eastern Michigan cornerback Kempton Shine, former Penn cornerback Kendren Smith and former Akron safety/linebacker Corey Thomas.

Shine will be a grad transfer in 2024, after seeing action in four full seasons and four games in his 2019 true freshman season.

Lots of run on the field at EMU for Shine – 2,473 career defensive snaps, including a career-high 797 in 2023, in which he achieved a career-best 74.0 PFF grade.

In 2023, Shine had 54 tackles at corner, and in pass coverage, he allowed 31 catches on 55 targets, for 463 yards, five TDs and a 108.4 NFL passer rating against, with five pass breakups.

Smith, in 2023 at Penn, earned an 85.1 PFF grade, getting on the field for 697 defensive snaps, with 57 tackles, and 23 catches allowed on 43 targets, for 178 yards, with six PBUs and a 63.9 NFL passer rating against.

Thomas, a 6’4”, 215-pounder, logged snaps as an edge rusher, linebacker, slot corner and free safety in 2023.

In 598 snaps, he had 51 tackles, two QB pressures, and allowed 16 catches on 27 targets, with two PBUs and an 83.4 NFL passer rating against.

Two other grad students – Malcolm Greene (264 snaps, 55.5 PFF grade) and Elijah Gaines (18 snaps, 56.7 PFF grade) – return from the 2023 UVA unit, along with promising sophomore Dre Walker (268 snaps, 60.8 PFF grade).

The secondary group has a chip on its shoulder from 2023. The stats weren’t kind – the UVA secondary ranked 10th in the ACC in pass-defense efficiency (133.7 opponent passer rating) and 11th in passing yards allowed per game (224.8).

“We’ve got a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, how the season ended,” Clary said. “So, you know, guys have a greater sense of urgency and, you know, keep it, like, like they say, keep the main thing the main thing, and just put your head down and work and worrying about what you can control. But yeah, definitely the sense of urgency knowing that all the little things matter, special teams, offense, defense, like, everything to be perfect and stuff like that. So yeah, guys definitely been putting into work and just having a greater sense of urgency.”

The focus from Cox, the position group’s coach, is on, as he put it, “mastering the mundane.”

“Just the detail of every day, just doing the things that no one wants to do, whether that’s getting here early, whether that’s doing extra treatment, just to investment in himself to just be the best person every day,” Cox said, explaining that point of focus. “I think that has collectively shown as a unit. And I’ve seen it every day. And just that, today’s over, now tomorrow, chase that excellence, it’s been fun to be around. I’m lucky to work with guys like that.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham 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].