UVA’s Burney, Briggs break down challenge of football, COVID-19

Richard Burney
Richard Burney. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

UVA defensive end Richard Burney had already faced the prospect of having his football career cut short before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.

Burney missed most of the 2018 season while dealing with potentially life-threatening blood clots. He was able to get back on the field in 2019, playing in all 14 ‘Hoos games, and was granted a sixth year of eligibility ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring.

After getting word from medical and training staff that he would not be at risk, Burney is back on the practice field on Grounds with his teammates, getting ready for the 2020 season set to kick off in four weeks.

“My family’s always gonna be concerned, you know, with me playing football in general. But you know, at the end of the day, they trusted me with my decision. They just want the best for me, and they put that decision on me,” Burney said after practice on Wednesday.

The ACC is forging ahead with plans to play an 11-game schedule, with UVA scheduled to open at home with VMI on Sept. 11.

The SEC, Big 12 and AAC are also moving forward with plans for a 2020 season. You might have heard that the Big Ten and Pac-12 will not play in the fall, with leaders in those conferences saying they are planning for what would appear to be an unlikely to actually happen spring schedule.

Against that backdrop, Burney and his teammates are practicing in the August heat.

“Honestly, you know, we just we just focus on what we’ve got going on,” Burney said. “Every other conference, you know, they make their own decisions. But, you know, what we’re focused on is Virginia football and how we can get better. So, it’s felt normal to me. I’m out here practicing with the guys, and it’s fun.”

Jowon Briggs
Jowon Briggs. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Sophomore nose tackle Jowon Briggs described himself as keeping “tunnel vision” as far as the current situation is concerned.

“I know I’m in the ACC, I know we’re playing football, and I know, tomorrow we’re having practice, so I’m going to act accordingly,” Briggs said. “I’m going to prepare my body tonight. Wake up in the morning and go to practice. You know, it’s just a day by day thing.”

Coach Bronco Mendenhall has stressed over the four-plus months that his team was spread out across the country, connected mainly by Zoom and texts, to use the challenge presented by the situation as an opportunity to grow.

Briggs cited the “unmatched” culture starting with Mendenhall at the top as key.

“With something like this, you know, COVID going around and everything, it’s just a day at a time,” Briggs said. “Can I make myself better the next day? Can I make myself better today? No, I’m not really looking forward like weeks from now. I’m really just focused on how I can act, how I can train, the day I’m at right now.”

Burney feels that the challenge of trying to get ready for a football season in the midst of the current situation has helped bring the team closer together.

“You know, we’re out there practicing, it’s hard, it’s hot, it’s hard to breathe,” Burney said. “But at the end of the day, we’re with each other, and we’re getting better. And then, you know, the rest of the day when we’re watching film or whether we’re eating or you know, just things of that nature. We just relish the fact that we get to be together. It’s hard, but we have great experiences.”

Story by Chris Graham

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