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UVA Football: Work to do to live up to expectations

uva footballThe storyline heading into UVA Football training camp had the ‘Hoos the preseason favorite in the ACC Coastal for the first time ever.

Now that guys are in pads, running sprints, hitting each other, there’s a new reality.

And fourth-year coach Bronco Mendenhall will be the first to tell you that he and his staff have a good bit of work to do between now and the Aug. 31 opener at defending Coastal Division champ Pitt.

Most significantly, UVA needs to replace the production of tailback Jordan Ellis, who ran for 1,037 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018.

To say that Ellis bore the bulk of the load among the tailbacks is an understatement. A look at the stats tells you Ellis had 86.7 percent of the carries by UVA tailbacks in 2018, and 83.0 percent of the tailback carries in 2017.

Wayne Taulupapa (5’9”, 210, sophomore) was named the starter at tailback coming out of the spring, but you can expect a spirited competition this month and really all season long, with PK Kier (6’0”, 235, junior) and Mike Hollins (5’9”, 210, freshman) in the mix along with Lamont Atkins (5’10”, 205, junior), Chris Sharp (6’1”, 200, senior), Jamari Peacock (5’11”, 245, junior) and Seneca Milledge (5’6”, 160, freshman).

Mendenhall told reporters after the team’s first practice on Friday that he would prefer to have a set starter rather than going the committee approach.

“I like the continuity and chemistry between quarterback and running back and offensive line. I prefer that,” Mendenhall said. “That doesn’t mean though that the other won’t work. So, we’ll do whatever is best for this team.”

The offense will also need to account for the loss of UVA’s all-time leading receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2018 (93 catches, 1,058 yards, 9 TDs).

Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins talked up at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte last month the development of senior Joe Reed (25 catches, 465 yards, 7 TDs in 2018) and sophomore Tavares Kelly (10 catches, 121 yards, 1 TD in 2018).

Perkins, who threw for 2,680 yards and 25 touchdowns, with a 64.5 percent completion rate, in his first season as the starter in 2018, also has senior Hasise Dubois (52 catches, 578 yards, 5 TDs in 2018) and junior Terrell Jana (11 catches, 151 yards, 1 TD in 2018) back with experience in the offense.

Depth comes in the form of a pair of grad transfers, Wayne Chatman from Arizona State and Dejon Brissett from Richmond.

Brissett is intriguing, though he is coming back from a medical redshirt year in 2018 at UR, after leading the Spiders with 63 catches in 2017.

Chatman was Perkins’ roommate when the two were enrolled at ASU, and like his former and again current teammate, his career never got off the ground in the desert, recording just three catches in 13 career games.

Chatman and Perkins teamed up on Friday on what may be the play of the entire training camp, early though it was.

Column by Chris Graham

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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