Mike Hollins Hopes To Meet New Challenge At Virginia

Virginia running back Mike Hollins
Mike Hollins received plenty of reps this spring at Virginia. ~ Photo courtesy of Jim Daves/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

His Virginia football career has been an exercise in patience so far for Mike Hollins. The running back hopes the payoff comes next.

Entering his junior year, Hollins has worked mostly as an understudy. He’s started only once and for the most part backed up Wayne Taulapapa, who transferred to Washington after last season. Hollins has had double-digits carries only twice. The Cavaliers titled the scales toward the passing game heavily last season with quarterback Brennan Armstrong but even when runs hit the play sheet in recent seasons, many belonged to the quarterback.

Throw in a gap year forced by the global pandemic – Hollins opted to sit out the 2020 season – and it has been a bit of a waiting game. Whether it was the decision to return to UVA after that year off or working through the unexpected coaching change from Bronco Mendenhall to Tony Elliott this offseason, he has tried to maintain perspective.

“Just staying grounded. Keeping the ones, my teammates, friends, people on the staff who know me for who I am and knew me as a first year and stayed in touch throughout my year out,” Hollins said. “Coming back, I just trust that God doesn’t make mistakes, trusting in this new staff, and allowing myself to buy in. And just not trying to adapt alone. Just trying to adapt with my team. Pull others with me and when I’m struggling allowing others to pull me up. I think the adaptation part is kind of team-wide. For me personally, it’s just so exciting to be back. I feel like all the reps I missed in the past are coming to us this spring and like I said, I want to be a sponge, I want to soak everything up, and just enjoy it.”

The spring indeed brought more reps to the running backs. When Elliott took the helm in December, he immediately said he wanted to create some balance for the offense in an effort to make it as effective as possible in all situations against all opponents. That included installing some traditional running plays to put the ball in the backs’ hands.

That sounded like music to Hollins’ ears. In 2021, he had 4 carries or less in 6 of the 9 games he played. For his career, Hollins has tallied a total of 70 carries for 325 yards and 16 catches for 83 yards. A large chunk of those chances came against William & Mary (11 carries, 78 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Liberty (8 carries, 27 yards, 1 touchdown) as a freshman plus Miami (10 carries, 38 yards, 1 touchdown) and Notre Dame (9 carries, 44 yards) last season. That accounts for 38 of his career carries.

During the first practices of the Elliott era, however, the running backs repeatedly got chances. When the depth chart dwindled to only Hollins and Amaad Foston due to injuries elsewhere, the load only increased. In the Virginia Blue-White Spring Game, Hollins got 9 carries for 19 yards.

Both sides of the ball claim benefits from that work this spring. The defense said it helps with preparing for the run, while the offense said it provides more options.

“I can already see it kind of having the defense questioning,” Hollins said. “Just because the balance, you never know what’s coming. I think we had maybe 60 passes a game last season. Not being a pass heavy offense and being more balanced, I know it helps BA out, it helps the O-Line out, it helps everybody out, and it especially helps the defense out because there’s less three-and-outs. There’s more ground and pound. Slower drives. First downs. So the defense is on the field, off the field, and on the field. They aren’t gassed. It adds to complementary football and it adds to all sides of the