Two Bryces: Last ride at Virginia coming at the Orange Bowl

uva footballThe 2019 football season started for me at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte with two guys named Bryce playing cornhole for hours.

The setup was at a hospitality event between interview sessions. After dinner, you could mingle, or you could play games, including cornhole, but to play cornhole, you had to beat the Bryces, and they were playing like it was for a spot in the Orange Bowl.

After more than two hours of running the table, they retired undefeated.

Fast forward five months, and their college careers are winding down in South Florida, as #24 Virginia prepares to face #9 Florida in the Orange Bowl.

Bryce Perkins will lead his team into the matchup. Bryce Hall will be on the sidelines, after going down to injury back in early October.

“Coach, encourager, supporter, up-lifter, anything I can really find my hands to do, I’m going to try and do with all my might,” Hall explained his role.

The projected first-round draft pick next spring didn’t fade back into the background after the injury. Around his rehab assignments, he’s been a regular fixture in the locker room, on the practice field, coaching his teammates up throughout game week and then on game day, and he’s going to reprise that role one last time on Monday, in a game that it feels like he helped make happen as much as anybody wearing the orange and blue.

The other Bryce gives him a run for his money on that count.

Virginia doesn’t end its six-year streak of losing records in 2018 without Perkins putting the offense on his back and carrying it to eight wins.

And the Cavaliers aren’t in their first traditional New Year’s bowl (yes, technically being played on Dec. 30) since 1991 without Perkins picking up the pieces after Hall and safety Brenton Nelson were lost to injury mid-season.

But to Perkins, just getting to the Orange Bowl wasn’t the goal.

“Only one other team has reached 10 wins at UVA, so that kind of just frames it right there,” said Perkins, who has thrown for 298.0 yards per game over his last five games, a stretch that saw Virginia go 4-1, after a 5-3 start that seemed to put the Orange Bowl dream on the backburner.

“Looking back to where Coach Mendenhall first started to with six, then eight, then this year with nine wins, it speaks to the culture of this team,” Perkins said.

The team arrived in Fort Lauderdale to begin its on-site game preparations late Thursday.

The focus is on the task at hand, but Hall conceded that there was time spent in the first team meeting in South Florida to appreciate the hard work it took to get there.

“Coach stood up all the seniors, and he expressed his gratitude for us and how we were his first class, acknowledging where we started and where we’re at right now,” Hall said. “He took that time and really just showed his gratitude and appreciation, which is something that is so cool because you get in a mode trying to be focused, but at the same time you don’t ever want to forget what got you here.”

Story by Chris Graham

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