As the clock wound down Saturday at Scott Stadium, William & Mary quarterback Tommy McKee took off on a run to try to make a play on fourth down for his team. He scrambled to his right and managed to gain eight yards on 4th-and-6 to extend the drive, which led to the Tribe’s only touchdown.
The collateral damage on the play proved much worse than the drive being kept alive.
During the scramble, UVA senior Tim Harris read the play from his cornerback spot in the middle portion of the field. He sprinted across the middle to try to beat McKee to the angle. During his pursuit, however, Tribe receiver DeVonte Dedmon delivered a block across Harris’ shoulder, which spun him completely around. He fell to the turf in a superman slide position and stayed down. He left the game and did not return.
Harris will not return this season either. When he made contact with the field at Scott Stadium on that fall, it caused a left wrist injury that will require surgery.
“Tim is done for the year,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He’s had a significant injury to his wrist,” Mendenhall said. “Surgery most likely in approximately two weeks when the swelling goes down. It’s not playable is what we have all been told.”
It marks the second straight year that Harris has had his season end in the first month. Last fall, a lingering shoulder injury that eventually required surgery ended his campaign after the first two games. A shoulder injury cost him two games in 2015 as well.
Harris had worked diligently in the offseason to rehab and build strength and conditioning for his return this season. The fact that it ended so abruptly left his teammates feeling somber as they prepare for Indiana this week. Fellow senior Doni Dowling asked to switch from his No. 7 jersey to the No. 5 worn by Harris for this week’s contest, which Mendenhall thought was a “great idea and a nice tribute” by the receiver.
Senior Daniel Hamm has spent a lot of time with Harris over their careers in Charlottesville. Hamm has roomed for three years with Harris’ first-year roommate and the friend groups still hang out often. Monday he called Harris as close as you can be to a brother without actually being one.
”It’s incredibly sad,” Hamm said. ”Just knowing Tim and who he is as a person and as a player, you want all kinds of success for him. Just knowing this has unfortunately happened, we’re just trying to keep him up, keep each other up on the team, and it saddens everyone I think even if you don’t know him that well.”
The unfortunate injury leaves Harris with some decisions to make. He returned to UVA this fall on a limited schedule as a graduate student, a plan mainly outlined for one semester before taking a shot at the professional football ranks. Now with his injury history, he has to decide whether to have surgery, try to rehab in time for workouts, and test the pro waters or to instead petition the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver and a sixth year.
Mendenhall said Monday that the sixth year possibility fits previous NCAA cases where waivers have been approved, but he did not indicate what Harris’ plans might be.
“First of all Tim has to decide if that’s what he would like to do but he would certainly qualify,” Mendenhall said. “Any time seasons are lost, and the number of seasons he’s lost, because of a season-ending injury and if they’re all within those early weeks – so this would be week one and last year it was within week two – I can’t speak for the NCAA, but I think the precedent’s been set many times if he wanted it to happen, the sixth year.”
True freshman Germane Crowell has taken over the top spot on the depth chart as Indiana prep begins and he finished out the game in that spot Saturday. Redshirt freshman Brenton Nelson is listed as his backup after being at safety behind Juan Thornhill on last week’s release. Mendenhall said Nelson can play all of the secondary spots.
Juan For The Home Team
Speaking of Thornhill, the junior safety put together a big-time game against the Tribe. He finished with 10 tackles, including one tackle for loss, and one pass breakup, the only one in the game for the Hoos. Thornhill made more solo tackles than anyone with seven in the game.
The 6’0”, 200-pounder moved back to safety this fall after playing corner a year ago so those early returns at his hold home are encouraging. Fellow safety Quin Blanding noted Monday that this spot in the secondary really fits Thornhill because he can tackle in run support, cover in passing situations, and it allows him to be more aggressive overall.
Mendenhall came away impressed after reviewing the game with W&M.
“Probably the most impressive player defensively for that game was Juan Thornhill,” Mendenhall said. “And so Juan replaced Kelvin Rainey from a year ago. Juan, not only defensively but on special teams, was all over the place and making a lot of plays and in a lot of different settings, in the pass game, in the run game, in the cover game. He was impressive.”
Virginia Football Notables & Quotables
- Daniel Hamm said he thinks that he and Jordan Ellis mix duties more than Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid did when listed as a speed back and big back last season.
- Bronco Mendenhall on receiver Ben Hogg getting Virginia’s first reception of the season: “I couldn’t have written the script any better.” It was the first college reception for Hogg, who earned a scholarship last season after he initially walked on from Brookville High in Lynchburg under Mike London.
- Speaking of scholarships earned, UVA punter Lester Coleman is now on scholarship as well. He had a 63-yard punt among four kicks that averaged 43.8 yards Saturday. That 63-yarder surprisingly isn’t that long for Virginia’s record books. The Hoos have had 32 punts cover 64 yards or more in their history as well as three more that went 63 yards too. The record? An 80-yarder from Sam Maphis in 1923 against Virginia Tech. The longest kick this decade? Alec Vozenilek popped a 77-yarder against Pitt in 2013.
- Mendenhall on Coleman’s day Saturday: “In fact one of the biggest plays of the game I thought was the punt from roughly, or I think his feet were on our 15 yard line and the ball ends up on the opponent’s 6. So that was a giant play. He also, no fault of his own, there was a ball that could have been downed on maybe the two-inch mark from the yard line. We didn’t cover it as well as we would have liked, but that was a really nice pooch punt. And there was another that was a foot inside the 10 or 12 yard line as well that I liked. So I would say his performance was a surprise to some extent that it would not only be positive, but that consistent.”
- Senior offensive guard Jack McDonald may be available this week, but the coaching staff will manage his snaps carefully because Mendenhall said there are “probably only so many plays that he’s capable of this year.”
- Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Scott Stadium. The National Anthem will be performed by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Band (TRADOC) Herald Trumpets from Fort Eustis, Va. Brigadier General Andrea Tullos (Begel) will conduct the coin toss. Tullos is a 1991 Virginia graduate and a three-year letterwinner with the UVA Field Hockey program. Fans can sign banners inside the West and East gates that will be sent to troops.
- Ten true freshmen played in the season opener: Mandy Alonso, Lamont Atkins, Joey Blount, Germane Crowell, Brian Delaney, Matt Gahm, Terrell Jana, PK Kier, A.J. Mejia, and Jamari Peacock.
- Virginia hit all of its big picture goals in the win Saturday: score more than 24 points, allow fewer than 24 points, reach +1 in the turnover margin, and at least +5 in average field position (+16 against W&M).