Virginia Football Notes: Tony Elliott Preps For First Preseason

Tony Elliott opens his first preseason practice at Virginia on Wednesday, Aug. 3. ~ Photo by SportsWar

The Virginia football team starts practice in less than a week and coach Tony Elliott liked how his team looked in a final early morning conditioning session. The Hoos hit the field at Scott Stadium before sunrise Thursday and Elliott believes it looks like a different team than the one that wrapped spring practice at the same location in late April.

The team has spent most of the summer working with strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman in preparation for the 2002 season.

“Physically, they look a lot better,” Elliott said. “And everybody knows that was the first thing I’ve said we’ve got to address is just the nutritional piece of it because the nutrition drives the strength and conditioning. You can’t put bad gas in a race car and expect it to go fast. You’ve got to put 93. … With that, you’re seeing the combination of the science behind how Coach Smo runs the weightroom, the additional resources that Carla [Williams] worked really, really hard for us to be able to put into nutrition, physically they look a lot better. … They’re starting to grow. They’re leaning down. And their confidence is up.”

The first test for UVA will come against Richmond on Saturday, Sept. 3 at Scott Stadium. Until then, the Hoos will be immersed in preseason practice. They begin on Wednesday night, August 3 with exactly one month on the calendar before the opener.

Elliott has spent the offseason months creating an outline for his first ever preseason as a head coach. After turning down other opportunities in previous years, Elliott accepted the Virginia job last December. He guided the team through spring practices and established some baseline expectations in those sessions, but now the stakes go up considerably.

While he spent seven seasons as an offensive coordinator at Clemson and crafted plans for that side of the ball, working through head coach responsibilities for the first time presented a learning curve as expected. Whether its little details that occur far from the field – Elliott mentioned the seating diagram for team flights as an example – or the specific practice details themselves, there is a lot to consider.

Still, he is excited about the challenge.

“It’s new for me. I’ve done the same thing for 11 years. I was telling somebody that I know the hotel room number, 429, that’s where I was going every Friday night before the game it was so routine,” Elliott said of his preparation. “That was an opportunity for me to take what I know and attack this challenge. … It’s been fun. It’s challenging. As a coordinator, you just kind of focus on your little area. As a head coach, you have different iteneraries. … It’s been a fun exercise. Just being around and having access to that information when I was at Clemson has helped me with putting the schedule together.”

Malachi Fields Out For Preseason

One of the players that drew the coaches’ attention during spring practices won’t get the chance to build on it this preseason. Sophomore receiver Malachi Fields (6’4″, 218) injured his foot during the offseason and needed surgery. He joined a short list of players unavailable at the start of training camp next week. Kicker Justin Duenkel (5’11”, 209) was injured during the season last year, while running back Ronnie Walker Jr. (5’11”, 218) went down early in spring practices. Those three players could work their way back as rehab progresses. Incoming freshman receiver Dakota Twitty (6’5″, 213) will miss the season with a knee injury.

“Disappointed that Malachi is not going to be with us in terms of practicing this fall camp – broke a bone in his foot and had to have surgery so he’ll be out,” Elliott said. “Ronnie Walker looks good. He’ll still be down for fall camp, not quite where he needs to be yet from a change of direction standpoint but looks good straight ahead. We know Duenkel is going to be down for fall camp. Dakota coming in off an ACL. They’ll be with us but they won’t be practicing. Everybody else is healthy.”

Des Kitchings Excited For Virginia Offensive Coordinator Opportunity

Elliott is not the only coach preparing for a new role this season at Virginia.

Des Kitchings is a veteran coach having worked at Furman, Vanderbilt, Air Force, NC State, and South Carolina. During his previous coaching stops, he held a variety of roles including eight seasons as the running backs coach at NCSU. While with the Wolfpack, he also held titles as the assistant head coach for offense and co-offensive coordinator. This season at UVA, however, will be his first time working as the lone offensive coordinator on a staff. He did call plays that season at State.

With record-setting quarterback Brennan Armstrong (6’2″, 212), multiple talented receivers led by 2021 All-ACC picks Dontayvion Wicks (6’1″, 2016), Keytaon Thompson (6’4″, 217), and Billy Kemp IV (5’9″, 172), and more on offense, he’s inheriting a group that has proven itself capable already. Virginia ranked No. 2 nationally in passing offense at 392.6 yards per game and No. 21 nationally in scoring offense at 34.6 points per game. While the approach will be altered and the numbers might shake out differently, that’s not a bad foundation for the Hoos.

Kitchings said he is excited for the chance to work with the UVA offense.

“Very excited about it,” Kitchings said. “I’ve great guys I’m working with. We’ve got some really good players we’re working with. So I’m totally excited about this opportunity.”

Keytaon Thompson Named To Preason All-ACC Team

The ACC released the preseason All-ACC Team on Wednesday. The lone Cavalier among the 27 picks was receiver Keytaon Thompson (6’4″, 217), who made the cut as an all-purpose selection. Thompson led Virginia with 78 catches last season and was second on the team with 990 receiving yards. He also rushed for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns. He finished the season with a five-game streak of 5 or more receptions. He was a Third Team All-ACC pick in 2021.

Thompson also received recognition on Phil Steele’s preseason All-ACC team and the Biletnikoff Watch List.

While no other Hoos made the list, Brennan Armstrong (6’2″, 212) did finish fourth in the ACC Preseason Player of the Year voting. NC State quarterback Devin Leary, the media’s preseason All-ACC pick at QB, led that chart with 40 votes. Quarterbacks Sam Hartman (Wake Forest), Tyler Van Dyke (Miami), Armstrong, and Malik Cunningham (Louisville) were among the top vote getters for the POY spot. The votes there and for the All-ACC team show a divided media base when trying to pick the quarterback as Leary had only 56 All-ACC votes, the fewest of anyone on offense.