Virginia players decide to conclude 2020 season
“I told our team I valued their feedback, and I wanted this to be their decision,” Mendenhall said Sunday. “Just as we met at the beginning of the year to make the choice to play, this was their choice to end the season at this time. I think it is appropriate for this team.”
The move had been foretold earlier in the week when senior safety Joey Blount told reporters that he personally would prefer to be home for the holidays rather than hang around for a couple of extra weeks to play in a bowl.
“I would not mind spending Christmas with my family after the whole COVID pandemic has been going on,” Blount said. “Not really being able to be with them the way I would like to be as I was in the past, and having people with their families not being able to come to games, there’s a lot of circumstances that surround that issue.”
The team reported back to Charlottesville on July 5, and at no point during that time did the program’s players have the opportunity to leave Grounds as a group for personal reasons.
During the season, student-athletes’ in-person time with immediate family was a limited period of time postgame – while outdoors, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“Unless you live it each and every day, it is impossible to understand the mental, emotional and physical sacrifice these young men have made since their return in July,” UVA Athletics Director Carla Williams said. “I am proud of their commitment and their incredible maturity. Our students did everything we asked them to do, and they were rewarded with the opportunity to compete in the sport they love when many doubted it could be done. The life lessons gained over the last nine months will serve them well.”
Thus the season finale was the 33-15 loss to Virginia Tech last night, in a game that the Cavaliers led, briefly, before Tech took control with a big second quarter, keyed by a 76-yard Khalil Herbert TD run and a 60-yard TD pass from Braxton Burmeister to Tayvion Robinson with 31 seconds left in the half.
That one made it 27-7 Hokies, and seemed to foretell what was to come today.
At the request of Mendenhall, the program’s captains and task unit leaders met with the team Sunday to discuss and make a decision on continuing the season.
Senior wideout Terrell Jana, a team captain, was torn late last night in the aftermath of what turned out to be the bitter end to the 2020 season.
“I don’t want to force guys that don’t want to play football into a game. And also, I don’t want to take that opportunity away from them. I know this would be one of the few teams that goes to four bowl games in a row, and then I don’t think any team has ever gone five in a row,” Jana said.
“So, I don’t want to take the opportunity away from the guys below us, but at the same time, I just want to hear them out, hear what they want to say, and as a team we will come together and make a decision.”
Mendenhall is clearly 100 percent on board with the decision that his players made.
“They have all grown tremendously from the challenges put before them this year. But now is the time to return to families and loved ones,” Mendenhall said. “This team will always be special for how it handled competing during a pandemic. It is one more example of the amazing capacity and leadership of the young men that allow me to coach them every day.”
Story by Chris Graham