UVA Football: Mendenhall, staff making most of a spring without practice
Bronco Mendenhall isn’t the type to look at the glass as half-empty, or something that can be construed as adversity as being anything other than an opportunity to grow.
“Really what’s happened is, there’s been extra time for recruiting. We would have been finishing spring practice this week. So, we’ve had five weeks of extra time,” Mendenhall told the Deseret News last week.
From the looks of it, Mendenhall and his staff have made the most of the extra time on the recruiting trail – virtual though it may be.
The best of the five recruiting classes in the Mendenhall era to date was the 2019 class that was ranked 39th nationally by Rivals, with an average class rating over the period at 57.
The 2021 class is currently ranked 21st nationally, with 10 of the 13 commits coming since spring practice was canceled due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.
And we’re not counting the biggest impact recruit here – Mississippi State grad transfer quarterback Keytaon Thompson, a former four-star recruit who will be expected to challenge redshirt sophomore Brennan Armstrong for the QB1 slot on the Virginia two-deep.
“We’re farther ahead in recruiting than we’ve ever been. But that’s only because we had the window of spring practice taken away that we were able to do that. We’ve been given a five-week head start,” Mendenhall said.
That’s pretty much how Mendenhall is viewing the COVID-19 downtime – as a head start on the fall, and a chance to learn how much the culture he’s been trying to build over the course of the past five years has taken root.
“He always believes in will versus will before skill, and trying to adapt over adversity. And this is what it is, it’s kind of adversity,” special-teams coordinator Ricky Brumfield said.
“Coach Mendenhall loves consistency, and so, I know kind of this definitely throws them off a bit, but also it’s time for him to relish, like, he loves challenges and creating chaos,” senior linebacker Charles Snowden said. “This is just another challenge that although he doesn’t have control over it, I know he’s excited to see, like, how we all react and different ways to keep us engaged.”
Mendenhall has devised a schedule for his players, who have fanned out across the country during the lockdowns, that he builds around the theme “The Best Day Ever,” that begins with a wake-up at 7:30 a.m., football meetings from 8:15-9 a.m., conditioning from 9-9:30 a.m., classes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with academics, nutrition and stretching at night.
“We sent that schedule to them, and they can have that in front of them so they can act as if they’re still here, not only in mind but in structure. That’s been really helpful,” Mendenhall said.
Snowden said that has helped create structure, but it’s still up to the individuals to make it work.
It’s a test of accountability that he knows Mendenhall is paying close attention to.
“In a weird way, Coach Mendenhall is enjoying this, because I know he’s excited to see who will, like, step up and show creative excitement when they’re at home,” Snowden said.
Story by Chris Graham