Mike Hollins Returns To Practice As Virginia Continues To Move Forward

Virginia Cavaliers Mike Hollins
Virginia running back Mike Hollins took part in practice Tuesday, just months after spending time in the ICU with a gunshot wound. ~ Photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics Media Relations/Jim Daves

There was plenty of anticipation surrounding the Virginia football team’s first spring practice, but one player in particular had the attention of the entire team and beyond: Mike Hollins.

The fifth year running back was a full participant at practice Tuesday. Just four months ago, in a shooting that killed three of his teammates, Hollins was in the hospital for a week after being shot in the back and spending time in the Intensive Care Unit. UVA teammate Perris Jones called Hollins’ story inspirational, something he sees daily as his roommate.

“They call him Iron Mike for a reason. His strength and his spirit, his character really shows through every day out there throughout workouts and throughout practice, it’s just motivating,” Jones said. “Just the way he’s carried himself throughout this tragedy and how he continues to carry himself, it’s surreal. He is a strong man, and his fight every day encourages all of us to continue to fight and to do the best that we absolutely can because if he can do it, we can as well, so it’s definitely motivating.”

Hollins’ hospital stay and inspiring story of recovery followed the tragic deaths of three teammates. The football team and entire Charlottesville community are still figuring out how to cope with and grieve the losses of Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry, and Devin Chandler from that tragedy. UVA coach Tony Elliott and his staff have a lot to deal with going into their second season, from navigating the team’s return to school, winter workouts, and now practice to preparing for a season and challenging milestones ahead. But the team seemed to get off to a great start in Elliott’s eyes.

Perseverance, resilience, and gratitude were common themes in Elliott’s remarks after practice as he and his staff gear up for their second spring. There will be emphasis on “moving forward, but not moving on,” and honoring the lives of Chandler, Davis, and Perry. Older guys like Jones and Hollins, as well as senior safety Antonio Clary, will serve as role models for the “standard” of the program and will look to quickly integrate transfers and freshmen into a team with some big holes on offense and defense.

Jones, a fifth year running back, said there were a lot of emotions at practice, but simultaneously tons of excitement. Clary said he felt that the energy and camaraderie at practice was unmatched. To Clary, “moving forward, but not moving on” means getting better every day and continuing the legacies of the three young men both on and off the field.

Coach Elliott focused on appreciating the opportunity to watch this guys practice and said he was “grateful to be on the grass.” This feeling of appreciation was felt by the rest of the coaching staff and players alike. Nothing captured that quite like watching Hollins work through drills and catch a pass down the sideline. The first spring practice, as always with NCAA rules, is a non-contact practice with limited equipment and Elliott expressed that he wanted to be safe with Hollins over the course of the spring and not rush him back into anything.

Still, Virginia’s second-year coach was impressed by how strong Hollins was, both physically and spiritually. He added that Hollins’ participation in practice was not only for himself, but to demonstrate perseverance and resilience to his teammates.

“I think a lot of it is for himself, but the majority of it is for his teammates. There was a time when we didn’t know if he’d ever have the chance to play to play football again,” Elliott said. “I’m just grateful to be on the grass, grateful to have an opportunity to be here at the University of Virginia and lead this program, lead these young men, all the guys that decided to come back and pick up the pieces and turn this tragedy into a triumph. Just so happy for Mike, because we all know that as a football player that your time is going to come to an end. You definitely wouldn’t want it to come to an end in that fashion. So to see him to have another opportunity, just to go out on his own terms, makes it really special.”

As this season’s first steps begin with spring practice, the Cavaliers likely can continue to draw strength from Hollins’ example. Jones said that his fellow running back is providing a roadmap for the weeks and months ahead as the Hoos try not to move on, but to move forward. Take it one step at a time.

“Mike, he’s the epitome of that,” Jones said. “You can only imagine how he’s feeling being back out here. I can’t begin to comprehend it for him, but the way he caries himself, it motivates us and it shows that there is a path forward. We just have to put one foot in front of the other each day, which is what we try to do.”

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