A typical graduate transfer recruitment moves quickly, Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
“The grad transfers, they’re making a decision on a fast timeframe as are we,” Mendenhall said. “I just frame it for them really clearly. We don’t even frame it as recruiting. I use the term ‘self-selection’. This is what we are. This is what our need is. I hope they do the same. This is what I am. This is what I’m looking for. And then if everything is open, then it gives you your best chance, at least the start. And then there’s a discovery process that happens after that. But in all these cases so far, though I can’t say it’s perfect, I think those are transfers are having a good experience they’re contributing at a high level. They fit well into our culture. They’re not selfish. They’re team oriented, and they’re contributing. Playing is more fun than watching. So that’s a critical part when I invite one of them to come to our program or ask them. I’ve assessed that we need them, and they’ll play. And that’s more fulfilling, especially in their stage of their career. I think so far so good, and maybe even better than what we could have imagined. And with more to come. And they’re all needed and they’re all showing that they contributed well, or contributing at a high level, which is I think good for everyone.”
“So the position coaches start the process,” Mendenhall continued. “They do all the background work, and when they think the prospect and the relationship has been vetted or is promising enough, then I’m called into it. So I don’t get involved until it looks like this could go. And then I kind of come in and do additional vetting. And I assess the film as well. I’d love to say that’s not the most important thing, but it is. They’re coming into play football, first. We have a need on the football field. And then immediately it goes to the academics and character part. Because who wants to be with people you don’t like every day. I just have quick conversations like we’re having and if they’re bright and engaging and motivated and it seems like that would be a great relationship, then ultimately, I sign off on it. But there’s not much time and it’s more than a first date but not much more than a first date is kind of how it is with a lot at stake. So, yeah, that’s how I frame it.”
2020 is no typical year. Coronavirus concerns led to the cancellation or postponement of fall college football seasons, including at James Madison University, which announced in August that it had postponed its fall football season. Dukes leadership indicated they were exploring a spring 2021 football season, but the uncertainty caused standouts D’Angelo Amos and Adeeb Atariwa to enter the transfer portal.
Amos, a star safety and special teams player at JMU, entered the transfer portal on Wednesday, August 5. Atariwa, a defensive lineman, followed suit soon after. With fall camps beginning soon – UVA’s began on August 10 – the standout student athletes had to expedite their decisions, even more than a typical grad-transfer. They decided on Virginia – Atariwa committed first and was then joined by Amos, who chose the Hoos over Wake Forest.
“I obviously thought there was a role for me to fill,” Atariwa said. “I came here knowing my skills and knowing what I could do and knowing what I could provide. I came ready to provide any role that they wanted me to fill. Thankfully, to this point, it’s become a role where I am starting. I’ve started two games so far, which is nice, and I plan on continuing to do that and continue to aid the team. So that’s exciting. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to start and contribute the way I want to.”
“Originally just the opportunity to play. That’s the main part,” Amos said of what goals he had when arriving at UVA. Amos says he would have stayed at JMU if not for the postponement. “To not play is hard. You just want to play the game. I can’t remember the last time I sat out during the fall and didn’t play football, so just that opportunity as well as also going into my senior year not knowing anything about any of the eligibility things as far as getting another year or anything like that. I just wanted to give myself the best chance. I know one of the big questions for NFL scouts and teams is can you play with the elite. I feel like coming here and to learn this system as fast as I did was definitely an opportunity to show that I could do that.”
The 6’3”, 280-pound Atariwa played in 39 games for the Dukes, earning 23 starts, including 15 starts in 16 games at the nose guard position in 2019. He racked up 52 tackles including 13 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, and added a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, and one blocked kick as the Dukes marched to the FCS Championship game.
Virginia lost one of its best defensive line players in the preseason, when junior Aaron Faumui opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns. Coach Mendenhall announced on November 2 that sixth-year senior starter and team captain Richard Burney has been lost for the year with a health issue, which means a larger role is in store for Atariwa, who started in Burney’s absence in the 44-41 win over UNC on Halloween.
Atariwa has played in all six games for UVA this season, earning two starts in total. He is credited with six tackles including one sack. Virginia defensive coordinator Nick Howell praised Atariwa’s effort earlier in the season. The former JMU standout has maintained the effort, and now he is getting comfortable with his position.
“Definitely coming here and playing end rather than an inside position is different,” Atariwa said. “I can say that for two years – my first two years of college – we did play a four-down, but I played nose and we were two wide, so that was very similar. It was just the adjustment towards the outside, having that extra element, I guess, but I’ve definitely gotten used to it.”
Amos, who is 6’1”, 185 pounds, earned All-CAA First Team honors at safety and punt returner in 2019, when he finished with 57 tackles, five pass breakups and two interceptions. The special teams star had 426 yards on 33 punt returns (12.9 yards per return) and blocked three kicks as a redshirt junior.
Amos arrived in Charlottesville aiming to provide valuable depth at safety behind starters Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson while also being a factor on special teams. With Blount and Nelson sidelined due to injury, Amos has started the past two games and is highly likely to receive a third-straight start against Louisville this week. He has registered 36 tackles (24 solo) with 1.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, one interception, and he has UVA’s lone blocked kick of the season.
“Wow. Essential,” Mendenhall said of importance of having Amos and Atariwa on the team. “And not only our two JMU transfers. Adeeb [Atariwa] is playing really well in the defensive line and is just getting quality plays and quality minutes and that’s been critical, as well as the D’Angelo [Amos] which we’ve seen. But then you add Keytaon [Thompson] into the mix and Ra’Shaun Henry into the mix. You add Shane Simpson, Tony Poljan. When you start naming those names, they’re becoming kind of the core of this year’s team in a lot of different ways. So I think we did a nice job of assessing positions of need and depth and possible volatility. And they’re helping our program. And now they’re seasoned. They’re immersed within our culture, even though it hasn’t been an entire year. And we’ve packed a lot of stuff into this season. And this onboarding process and the challenges through COVID. So I think they’re doing really well and I think really poised to continue down the stretch for us. Back to specifically the JMU transfers – vital. We would really be hurting without them at those two positions with limited depth.”
More on Amos & Atariwa
– Growing up with nine siblings – four brothers and five sisters, each of whom is a talented athlete – has shaped Amos, who says his household was “was definitely competitive (laughs).”
“You had to stand your ground every day,” Amos continued. “You learn how to trash talk a lot (laughs). It was definitely helpful, and it has made me the competitor I am today.”
Amos was very competitive with his brother, DaShaun, who played college football at East Carolina before stints with the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers as well as the Calgary Stampeders.
– Amos comes from a military family – his stepfather, mother, and biological father all serve or served in the military. The military background “helps you just with everyday life,” Amos said. “Time management, getting things done, not procrastinating or anything like that. So you’re very driven, very motivated. Everything is pretty organized. One of the things that surprised me here that Coach Mendenhall does is kind of this test that shows kind of who you are. Do you go off emotion, do you go off of just being organized … kind of what do you do when you’re stressed. Mine was leaning towards being organized. That didn’t come as a surprise. Going to West Point Prep as well was kind of in line with what I was used to. It created a lot of discipline, a lot of behaviors that I take pride in today.”
– Atariwa on Amos, who is his roommate at UVA: “He’s an awesome guy. He’s always very energetic. Really genuine person, which I appreciate. He’s a really fun-going guy.”
– Virginia was not a totally unfamiliar situation to Atariwa, who knew Cavalier offensive tackle Tommy Christ from high school – the two attended Dominion H.S. in Sterling, Virginia – and long-snapper Danny Caracciolo from JMU.
“I knew a lot of people coming in,” Atariwa said. “They’ve all been very welcoming, so that’s helped a lot. I’ve been treated like family and I really appreciate that.”
– How has Atariwa grown as a player this season? “Just football knowledge,” Atariwa answered. “I’ve learned a lot more just as far as schemes and film study, just playing different people.”
– Amos (Sport and Recreation) and Atariwa (Economics) graduated from JMU in 2019. Both players are doing postgraduate work in the Curry School at UVA.
Injury Updates: Blount, Nelson and Davis Jr.
The aforementioned Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson have missed the last two games due to injury. UVA defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Nick Howell said Wednesday this week that “if they’re healthy, I’ll play them.”
Howell said Blount has been out in practice “a little bit” and Nelson “not as much” this week as Virginia prepares for Louisville. My best guess is that neither will play against the Cardinals, meaning D’Angelo Amos and sophomore Antonio Clary will be UVA’s starting safeties for a third straight game.
Coach Howell discussed Clary’s development.
“The biggest challenge is you go from someone who is not experienced to you want them to play at an experienced level,” Howell said. “Game reps certainly help people play better. Is he getting better? Yes. It’s fun, man. I think it’s exciting, man. You recruit a kid. You bring him in. It’s time to go, and so there is a lot of enthusiasm there. He’s working hard every day to get better. Young players take time to get to where they need to go. Assignments, communication, all that stuff, it’s going fast. The game goes slower the more reps you get, so hopefully these game repetitions are helping him out to do that.”
The experienced Amos has given his youthful defensive backfield teammate some advice: “Just do what you know how to do, play to your strengths, and work on everything else throughout the week.”
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae provided the latest on talented true freshman wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr., who has missed the last two games: “It’s been a while since Lavel has been on the field, so we look forward to his return,” Anae said. “Hopefully we get the green light on Saturday to go with him. The way this thing works, even Friday or Saturday we could get the call that some kid has been pulled off for this, that and the other. We hope as soon as possible and we hope that this weekend we can get him going.”
At 6’7”, 200 pounds, Davis Jr. is Virginia’s best deep ball threat, averaging 23.3 yards per catch.
Heading To The Senior Bowl
Coach Mendenhall announced to the team that senior outside linebacker Charles Snowden and senior tight end Tony Poljan have been selected to play in the Senior Bowl.
— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) November 12, 2020
Another Jersey Earned
True freshman walk-on tight end Sackett Wood Jr. is the latest Cavalier to earn a jersey number. Wood, who measures in at 6’3”, 235 pounds, attended E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Virginia.
— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) November 12, 2020