50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Familiar Faces

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Virginia won eight games last season.
Nick Howell started as an intern for Bronco Mendenhall at BYU and has moved up the coaching ranks in the years since. ~ Kris Wright

When Bronco Mendenhall moved across the country to take the Virginia football job, he brought much of his BYU coaching staff with him. Many of those coaches climbed the ranks on Mendenhall’s staff through the years. Now you’re seeing a similar structure at Virginia.

The “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series continues.

18 – Familiar Faces

The Virginia coaching staff has maintained its continuity early in Mendenhall’s tenure in Charlottesville. That’s not too surprising, though, because many of those coaches have spent years working in his programs at BYU and UVA. Sifting through the bios shows that dedication.

Defensive Coordinator Nick Howell first joined Mendenhall in 2007 and has remained with him since. He started as a defensive intern at BYU and then spent time as a graduate assistant before receiving a full-time assistant role in 2010. Co-Defensive Coordinator Kelly Poppinga played for Mendenhall at BYU, helping the Cougars win back-to-back Mountain West titles in 2006 and 2007. He started his coaching career in 2009 as a defensive intern on Mendenhall’s staff before moving on to grad assistant and full-time assistant roles.

Also on the defensive side of the ball, D-Line coach Vic So’oto played at BYU and then started as a football office intern in 2015. He joined UVA as a grad assistant in 2016 and then moved to a full-time coaching job. Shane Hunter, the inside linebackers coach, played for Mendenhall at BYU from 2008-2010. After a coaching stint at Snow College, he reunited with Mendenhall as a graduate assistant at BYU before moving up to a full-time role at Virginia.

Virginia won eight games last season.
Jason Beck works as the Virginia QB coach after playing that position at BYU. ~ Kris Wright

On offense, quarterbacks coach Jason Beck played that position at BYU under Mendenhall. He worked as an intern with the football program there before moving through spots at LSU, Weber State, and Simon Fraser. He returned to BYU for a full-time coaching job in 2013 and came to Virginia when the staff moved east.

That’s five different coaches that started in an entry level spot and then moved up the ranks in the program. Others like Robert Anae, Mark Atuaia, and Garett Tujague have been with this coaching staff since 2013 at both BYU and UVA; Anae worked with Mendenhall previously at BYU as well.

“He lets you be a husband and a father,” Poppinga said of coaches staying on staff for long periods of time. “He knows that football isn’t the end all, but he knows that obviously it’s important and if we don’t do a good job out of it, we won’t be here. I think the main thing you’d say about Bronco is that he’s a balanced guy and he has his priorities straight.”

That model is repeating itself at Virginia. Three of the four graduate assistants for the program are former Hoo players. Jackson Matteo is in his third year in that role after finishing his UVA career under Mendenhall. Kirk Garner is in his second season after finishing his last season as a student-coach due to a season-ending injury with the Hoos in 2017. Last season, former Cavalier quarterback Matt Johns was also a grad assistant; he took a coaching job with his other former coach Mike London at William & Mary.

That opened up a graduate assistant spot for C.J. Stalker, who finished his career at Virginia last fall. He spent the 2018 season in uniform wearing a headset with the coaches and assisted with signaling in plays. Another former Cavalier that finished up his career under Mendenhall is also back with the program this year. Zach Bradshaw is a regional scout after he finished his career at UVA in 2016 as a linebacker and long snapper.

Poppinga said that he believes Mendenhall prefers to bring people through the system and train them to help coach for the program.

“He wanted ex BYU players to be trained up in the system because he believes those guys are going to recruit hard for that school, they’re going to know the scheme, they’re going to know the system, they’re going to know how the program is ran,” Poppinga said. “That’s why you’ve had the Jackson Matteos, the Matt Johns, and now C.J. Stalker and Kurt Garner. Those guys are getting trained up. I would say a couple of guys are probably pretty dang close if one of us leave, I’m sure that’s where Bronco is going to go. For him, it’s a trust. He’s seen them in action. He knows what they’re all about. He knows that they know what his expectation is. I think that’s the biggest thing. He doesn’t want to waste time and slow the whole program down by bringing in someone that really doesn’t know what the program is all about. All of the guys that are our GA’s for us right now I think are guys that in the near future could step right in and take any of our positions.”

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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