The Virginia football team kicks off its season on Saturday at Pittsburgh. When the Hoos take the field, one of the key faces for leadership won’t be one of the regular headliners.
Bryce Perkins and Bryce Hall are featured on the annual fact book. Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois combined for 13 touchdowns last season. Eli Hanback is known for his steady work and performance. Jordan Mack has been a fixture at linebacker. Dillon Reinkensmeyer has emerged as a key figure on the offensive line.
All of them have leadership voices in the program. If fans click off more names, it may or may not take long to get to another senior that has a key leadership presence on this year’s team. He’s the focus of the next article in the “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series.
14 – Sharp Leadership
When senior Chris Sharp first joined the Virginia football program, the results were far from pretty. He redshirted in 2015. While Sharp earned scout team player of the week three times for three different units (offense, defense, and special teams) that year, the team stumbled to a 4-8 finish, marking the fourth straight losing record for the program. Soon after, Mike London was replaced by Bronco Mendenhall.
The Cavaliers, of course, didn’t immediately turn the tide in 2016. They finished 2-10 in Mendenhall’s debut season. Sharp, meanwhile, saw a little bit of action at safety but contributed mostly on special teams.
Those hard times, however, have given way to better days of late. The Hoos made their first bowl game in six years in 2017 and followed that up with eight wins that included a shutout over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl last season. This year’s team has been pegged as the Coastal Division favorite by the media in the preseason.
“It’s definitely great,” Sharp said. “Coming where we came from, experiencing the success that’s coming and that we’re working for is definitely a great experience. The class that I came in with, I think there’s five of us right now. We’re reaping the benefits of everything that we’ve went through so it’s a great experience.”
Sharp’s journey has changed course, too. Before Mendenhall’s second season in 2017, Sharp moved from defense to offense where he joined the running backs. Over the past two years, he’s logged a few carries, caught a few passes, and made a lot lot of blocks. That includes last season when he made two touchdown catches among his five total receptions. He scored a touchdown against Louisville in the ACC opener that helped the Wahoos get going on the right foot in league play.
Sharp’s playing time and production are just a small part of his role on the team, though. His leadership role far exceeds what fans see on game day. He’s a task unit leader as a member of the team’s leadership council. Plus, he has an older voice that has helped see the team through the transition between coaches.
Even newcomers to the program that had no experience under Coach London, like quarterback Bryce Perkins that transferred in ahead of last season, can see the impact Sharp has within the program. He recalled a moment during the spring game earlier this year where Sharp pumped up the offense to break them out of a slow period.
“He’s one of the strongest leaders,” Perkins said. “He’s not afraid to speak up and speak to the guys. I remember in the spring into the game, we were kind of having a stall on offense and he came and got everybody motivated. He ended up having a big run. He’s one of our squad leaders. Just having him being in that role, he influences a lot of guys that aren’t in a starting role to buy in, do the same, and work hard. We have a lot of guys not playing that are in leadership roles. It’s important for the culture of this team.”
It’s a role that Sharp takes seriously. Within the running back group where Jordan Ellis is now gone, Sharp is the oldest player that’s been in the program for five years. He takes “a lot of ownership” within the position group to make sure that younger players are adjusting on and off the field as they join the program. He said players like Taquan Mizzell, Albert Reid, and Daniel Hamm did the same for him earlier in his career and that he wants to take care of the younger players too.
That extends beyond the running back room, though. One of Sharp’s biggest influences comes away from the field for the entire team. He wants to be a positive example and voice for his teammates when it comes to academics and more. He’s a good choice for that. Sharp became the third child in his family to graduate from college this past spring. He’s working in the Curry School for a Master’s Degree currently. That may lead him down an administrative career path eventually.
“Just being a positive leader both on and off the field, off the field especially,” Sharp said. “Making sure guys are making the right choices. Going to class is just as if not more important than what we’re doing on the field.”
When Mendenhall took over the program, he knew getting some holdovers from the London era to buy into the new way of doing things and to stay committed needed to be a part of any rebuilding process. That’s carried through in recent years with the likes of Micah Kiser winning the Campbell Trophy and Chris Peace coining the “New Standard” mantra that the team embraced.
Sharp is another player in that mold even if he doesn’t make it to the NFL ranks like those linebackers. The daily example that he provides for the Cavaliers in year four continues to be a significant part of the turnaround that’s ongoing under Mendenhall. Commitment matters and Sharp is fully on board.
“It’s not necessarily a voice, it’s a presence,” Mendenhall said. “He just is committed to everything that we do as a program and he loves how we do it. It’s just steady where he’s always doing what he’s supposed to do. When you have older players like that, who are just no nonsense and matter of fact about how we do things and they’re not afraid to tell others how we do things or show them – in his case, it’s more showing. That’s a nice partnership to have as a head coach.”
50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
- 50 – Is Being Favored A Good Thing?
- 49 – What Is Bryce Hall’s Ceiling?
- 48 – What It Takes To Win The Coastal
- 47 – Will Tavares Kelly Have A Breakout Season?
- 46 – Defensive Line Reboot
- 45 – Secondary Contenders
- 44 – Stars & Sleepers
- 43 – One For All?
- 42 – Fan Interest Thermometer
- 41 – Workhorse Search
- 40 – More Points
- 39 – First Year Predictions
- 38 – Be Disruptive
- 37 – Ranking The 2019 Schedule
- 36 – Reducing Explosive Touchdowns
- 35 – Grant’s Growth
- 34 – Jana Making His Presence Known
- 33 – Beginning Believers
- 32 – Seizing The Opportunity
- 31 – Red Zone Offense Stalls Again
- 30 – Glaser Focused
- 29 – Secondary Depth Will Be Tested
- 28 – Red Zone Defense Drops But Gains
- 27 – A High Ceiling At Linebacker
- 26 – Will Briggs Make An Impact?
- 25 – Special Teams Headlines
- 24 – Jersey Selection Musings
- 23 – Penalties & Turnovers
- 22 – What Is Hasise Dubois’ Ceiling?
- 21 – The Comeback Kids
- 20 – Armstrong Provides Confidence At QB Beyond 2019
- 19 – Bronco The CEO
- 18 – Familiar Faces
- 17 – Earning Trust
- 16 – One Speed Reed
- 15 – 50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Atkins Stays The Course