UVA’s De’Vante Cross looks to super senior season as chance at redemption
De’Vante Cross was needed at cornerback in 2020, so the senior moved there from his natural safety spot.
The numbers he put up at corner were ghastly – opposing QBs targeted him 46 times on 339 pass coverage snaps in 2020, completing 31, for 696 yards and five TDs, and a 128.4 NFL passer rating.
Cross is one of nine Virginia seniors, six on the defensive side of the ball, returning for what the NCAA is terming a super senior season.
The increased depth in the secondary – UVA added North Dakota State grad transfer Josh Hayes last week, and the ‘Hoos should have corner Darrius Bratton and safety Joey Blount fully healthy in camp in July – is allowing Cross to move back to safety.
He’s ready to prove that 2020 was an aberration.
“I feel so much more comfortable, to be honest with you,” said Cross, who was solid at safety in 2019, putting up a Pro Football Focus grade of 61.6, while excelling in pass coverage – allowing 22 completions in 40 attempts in 493 pass coverage snaps, for 265 yards, three TDs and a 79.7 NFL passer rating.
Safety is “what I’m most used to, where I feel comfortable, where I feel like my skill sets lie,” Cross said, so his move back there has been working out well.
“He knows how to execute, and he knows what he’s doing,” safeties coach Shane Hunter said, while noting how much has been asked of Cross in his Virginia career.
“I mean, the cool thing is he has played, shoot, so many different positions. I remember the Boise State game (in 2017) when we played there, I think he took a snap at quarterback, receiver, DB, returned a punt, and was, like, amazing. That shows you the type of athlete he is, and you know how smart he is to be able to take all that in,” Hunter said.
“He’s worked his tail off. I mean, in the offseason, you look at him in conditioning, he’s given it everything he has. And so for him, he really looks at this as just a great opportunity to make something special happen,” Hunter said.
Blount, himself a super senior looking to have a bounceback season this fall, thinks Cross’s versatility is a plus when it comes to what he can do in the defensive backfield.
“In high school, I played a lot of offense and as a quarterback,” Blount said. “Quarterback and safety, kind of like the eyes in the sky of the offense and defense, you’d be able to see the whole fields, make the reads, like, the checks, and having him back there with me, who can also do that, and just alert things for the happen, call out routes, down and distance, it just gives more reinforcement to what we’re trying to do and the competence of the secondary.”
Blount and Cross figure to start at safety, with Bratton, Hayes and Nick Grant – a third super senior – competing for the starting jobs at corner.
The good news is that there’s a lot of returning talent, plus the infusion of Hayes, a second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection in 2019 who was part of three FCS national championship teams at North Dakota State.
The bad news is that there’s a lot of work to do. the Virginia secondary was dead last in the ACC in 2020 in passing yards per game allowed (304.4) and pass efficiency defense (154.4).
“We’re trying to recover from a year where injuries, you know, happened to us, and we weren’t as good as we thought we were going to be last year. We want to look past that year and only just build towards a better future,” Blount said.
Hunter thinks the returning experience will be a big help there.
“When you’re bringing back Joey Blount, De’Vante Cross, Coen King, I mean, guys who have played meaningful reps in meaningful games, there’s a different urgency to get things right,” Hunter said. “They see that, and they know that, and they’re doing such a great job of pushing the guys, like the guys that are right there with them, to help them to understand how to see things. De’Vante, he grabs one of the younger guys, Joey, he says, hey, look at it this way, and it’s amazing to see their influence on the guys that are still trying to learn that maybe don’t have as much game experience.”
That’s why Cross came back.
“Coach Mendenhall talks a lot about, you want to leave somewhere better,” Cross said. “That’s, like, really the main conversation, like, you know, I would have left 5-5, which is not the standard. It’s not it. That’s unbroken progress, where we’re trying to sustain progress.
“That’s what it’s about, man, coming back. Let’s leave a legacy. Let’s leave this program on the right track. Let’s not leave it worse than what it was. That’s the only conversation I remember really having with other guys.”
Story by Chris Graham