When you scroll the Virginia football roster for jersey numbers, weight updates, or ideas for trends or the scholarship picture, it’s a reminder of the number of players working in, and for, the orange and blue throughout the season. More than 100 players dot the current roster.
Some have numbers. Some do not. Some have played more than two thousand snaps. Many have played none. There are names you know without thinking, some that take a few moments to recall, and some you may not even know.
That’s the starting point for the latest “50 Thoughts Before Virginia Football Kickoff” article – “A Salute To The Grinders At Virginia.”
During the Bronco Mendenhall era, Cavalier fans have gotten to know a little bit about these types of players. Sometimes, there’s a video of a player receiving a scholarship like Sackett Wood Jr. recently or there’s a moment where someone like Reed Kellam gets to make the first pick in the annual jersey draft. The “Mad Hatters” that help the team prepare as scout team players got the spotlight for a little bit.
There are a whole lot of those types of players on a roster that grind away without the fanfare. Day after day, the put on the orange and blue and go to work.
And UVA fans know that’s not easy under Mendenhall. The work is not a cake walk. It’s not a go through the motions, do a few reps, get a sideline spot type of gig. The will before skill running, tumbling moments to end practice and less drama, more work workouts … well, those aren’t just for the starters. They’re for everybody.
So to grind through that day after day is something to be appreciated. Maybe especially with the growing transfer portal trend. Mendenhall certainly sees those players as a critical element of the program even if they don’t get celebrated on the field on game day.
“They’re the glue, the foundational part that in essence establishes and validates really the culture of your organization,” Mendenhall said. “So they receive very little notoriety. Not many people know about them. They are just daily showing up and working and working and supporting and encouraging and helping and carrying water and helping teammates, and then they just keep doing it. That unselfish sacrifice and commitment to team over self, that’s special to witness and watch, as most of us are a little bit more self-oriented. Serving others is an amazing way to live. I admire, respect, and I’m so thankful for that group of players on our team, and had a chance to acknowledge a group of walk-on specific players and one scholarship player in kind of a separate and special jersey ceremony that we’ve never done with that exact thought in mind. … That was one of the coolest things that happened in my career, seeing the team’s response to that very group that you’re mentioning.”
With that in mind, here is a salute to a few of the upperclass grinders that have worked in the program for at least three years. Some have played a lot on special teams. Some played earlier in the career, but not as much later. Some have been injured. A few have appeared on offense or defense.
Tommy Christ – The original inspiration for this entry because he’s filled in as needed throughout his career. In 2018, he made 3 starts on the defensive line as a redshirt freshman when injuries impacted numbers in a big way for that position. He made 2 tackles in the Belk Bowl win that season. Ahead of the 2019 season, he switched to the offensive line to help with depth there and played in two games. In 2020, he played on both lines and special teams, taking 40 snaps on the defensive line, 23 snaps on the offensive line, and 60 snaps with the offense/defense field goal units.
Perris Jones – One of the more recognizable names in the group, Jones has played a lot on special teams in his career. He has 24 total appearances in games and did get 2 carries for 11 yards against Duke last season. Jones switched to defensive back during the spring to help with numbers there in practice.
Hayden Mitchell – One of those walk-ons that got a scholarship reward last season. Mitchell is a special teams regular since 2018, but he made 2 catches vs. William & Mary in 2019 and caught 1 pass against NC State and Abilene Christian in 2020.
Jaylon Baker – Injuries at defensive back in 2019 bumped Baker into a starting spot at North Carolina in a win, but he’s been mostly a special teams contributor. He played 60 snaps on special teams last season. He’s swapped from defense to offense and will be at receiver this season.
Josh Clifford – After two years of no playing time, he played in four games last fall for a total of 15 snaps.
Derek Devine – He played in one game in his first two years before he appeared in seven games last season with most of his time coming on special teams. He did play 31 snaps on offense. He was injured at the start of fall camp.
T.C. Harrison – A special teams regular in 2019 and 2020, he played more than 100 snaps last fall as a member of four different special teams units. Harrison has 5 tackles in his career.
Jack Keenan – Listed as an offensive tackle, he’s played in one game in three seasons. Fellow tackle Ryan Swoboda said Keenan is “always working.”
Darren Klein – A local player from Crozet, he’s appeared in one game in three seasons. He made the most of that opportunity with 4 tackles against Abilene Christian at Scott Stadium last fall.
Ugo Obasi – One of the true freshmen to play in 2018 when he saw time in 10 games, Obasi has been hampered by injuries. He played in three games in 2019 and missed all of last season.
Samson Reed – One of the players from Hawaii to travel all the way to the East Coast to play at Virginia, he has yet to appear in a game after three years in the program.
Joseph White – A defensive back, White played on five special teams units in 2019 thanks to 1 snap with the field goal block unit. He played with four special teams units again in 2020.