As the bowl selection process unraveled throughout the day Sunday, Virginia’s players were not in a big group setting March Madness style. They were scattered going about their daily business.
When the Military Bowl officially picked Navy and Virginia for the Dec. 28 contest (for UVA ticket information, click here), at least one player was in the middle of studying for the upcoming exam break. Classes end Tuesday and exams start later this week at UVA so punter Lester Coleman was tucked away in the recesses of Alderman Library when his phone buzzed.
”Truthfully, it is exam season at UVA now and I was in the library hitting the books and got the text and was super excited to hear and see that,” Coleman said. ”Alderman, third floor, gov docs.”
Regardless of where they heard the news, the Cavaliers were excited for their return to the postseason to have a destination. This is the first bowl trip for the program since 2011 after all so most of the players on this roster – a few transfers excluded – are headed to their first bowl game in college football.
The fact that they drew the Military Bowl in Annapolis proved significant for some because of its location. While it will be a home game for Navy, it will also be a homecoming of sorts for many of the players on the roster that hail from the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) belt around the nation’s capital.
That’s true for players like Micah Kiser, who underwent thumb surgery and likely will be wearing a cast for it according to UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall on Monday, and Andre Levrone for example. Both players are from Maryland. Levrone even played in the stadium multiple times as a high school player at Good Counsel. He scored a touchdown at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in one game when he returned an interception as a defensive back.
The Military Bowl carries further significance for Levrone too. His family has deep roots in the United States Armed Forces so he is honored to be in this game for the postseason.
”My grandfather was a Colonel in the Army. My dad served in the Marines. My brother did two tours in Iraq in the Army as a tanker as well,” Levrone said. ”Military is strongly rooted in who I am. It’s all about discipline in my household. My father, my mom grew up as an Army brat with her dad as well so it’s on both sides of my family. I have the utmost respect for any member of our military service and it’s honor to be able to play in a bowl game that show honor to them.”
UVA running back Jordan Ellis saw the specific bowl in a similar light.
”My grand dad was in the Army and he fought in World War II and all of that,” Ellis said. ”It’s honoring all the Armed Forces. I’ve always had a special place for honoring them so it’s very exciting to play in a bowl game that honors them too.”
Virginia linebacker Jordan Mack has been to Annapolis and the stadium as well. His brother Charles took a recruiting visit to Navy before picking Richmond and Jordan Mack went on that trip.
”When my brother visited Navy, I went there,” Mack said. ”It was fun. It was a strict campus, but it was fun. … I actually watched [Army-Navy play] because my brother got recruited by Navy so I watched them a little bit.”
Even before the official destination made its way to the media and social media channels, the Cavaliers were excited for a postseason opportunity. That was one of the goals coming into the year and the team invested a lot of time and increased reps trying to reach that benchmark.
With a 6-6 record in the regular season, however, the players now have their minds set on a winning record for the year after a bowl game.
”It would be great,” Levrone said. ”As I mentioned before, this isn’t a .500 team [to me]. I’m really excited for the opportunity to go back out there and show what we’re preparing for right now and what we were able to show throughout the season. Right now, we’re just anxious to get back on the field. It’s been a little bit of a break, guys are feeling really healthy right now, … so we’re looking to go out there and get the seventh win.”
”We’re very, very, very excited,” ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Brenton Nelson said. ”It’s the first time any of the seniors or anybody on the team has been to a bowl. My class came in and we helped produce a bowl and an even season, potentially a winning season, it’s a great experience and a great honor.”
The coaching staff will not shy away from outlining the possibility of a winning record for the team. Mendenhall said playing in another game with additional practice and prep time would benefit the program, but getting a win would accelerate things even more in terms. A postseason win can help build confidence within the team and be attractive to recruits considering the program.
”Just brutal fact wise, seven is better than six,” Mendenhall said. ”The postseason is a great mark and something we were shooting for. I’m not sure anyone believed it would happen in year two other than maybe our coaching staff. We believed it would take everything we have to get to that point and now that it’s happened, certainly winning the game would be another huge step and accelerate our growth, which is what we’re trying to do. … In this type of game, in this type of setting, against this type of opponent, it’s a foundational piece for moving one more step on our continuum.”