Cavalier Corner

October 2017

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Page 14 of 31

OCTOBER 2017 15 home the mantra of "earned, not given." In the process of rebuilding, they started by stripping some things away and that included jersey numbers and any Virginia insignia on players' training gear. Once winter workouts turned to spring practice, they continued to go without numbers. In fact, the Cavaliers didn't receive their numbers until a special cer- emony last fall, an occasion so impact- ful that Mendenhall has said he'll keep this tradition for the rest of his coaching career. "It was impactful a year ago, but I think it was more even so this year," he said fol- lowing this year's jersey numbers draft. "The task unit leaders, they wrestled with the top-50 picks and who got them and where, and spent hours [deciding] and really did a nice job of explaining why each player was selected in the position they were. That came from the players, not me." Perhaps one player wants to reconnect with a number he had in high school or even keep the number he had previously. It's up to him to not only show well in practice, but to earn the respect of his teammates so that when the players are divided up to choose the order of selec- tion, they'll tap him as someone who picks sooner rather than later. For the second year in a row, redshirt third-year running back Jordan Ellis picked first during the draft held at the end of training camp. As he recalls it, the way fourth-year captain Micah Kiser recognized him made the moment all the more special. "Micah announced it, just what he said: 'One of the hardest workers on the team,'" Ellis explained. "Just how I al- ways say nothing and I go by action. Just knowing my peers think really highly of me, it means a lot to me. "I pride myself on giving great effort no matter how I feel. Whether it's in work- outs, practice, just everything. Just give it my all, that's how I was raised. What- ever you do, just give your all. That's my mindset going into everything." When Mendenhall's staff began the practice last year, they couldn't have ex- pected the players to embrace it the way they have thus far. "When someone stood to receive their number, it meant a lot to them that they were recognized by their peers," the coach said. "It's been one of the highlights of my coaching career, those two nights. I've really been impressed with our team." After the first 50 players selected their numbers, the next two batches of num- bers weren't handed out until the next two Thursdays. Among that initial group was the first number to be traded so far: Second-year wide receiver Hasise Du- bois and redshirt third-year long snapper/ backup quarterback Joe Spaziani swapped No. 11 and No. 8, respectively. "Actually," Dubois recalled several days later with a smile, "see after the draft, Joe was supposed to get No. 99 but one of our D-tackles took it. So then he didn't know what number to pick and he was sick so he just told one of our receivers to get the best number he can [for him] and I was supposed to get No. 8 originally. "So after I talked to the quarterbacks and Joe was like, 'You've been doing a great job throughout the whole fall camp. There's no problem why I wouldn't switch with you.' Really, it was all about respect and how I've been progressing on the field and that's how I got to be No. 8." So did he have to do Spaziani's laundry or anything else in this trade? "No, no," Dubois said, explaining that because Spaziani wasn't there (and had the selection before him) he had another player pick the number in his place. "My eyes were just locked on No. 8 and it was the number my brother wore before. I knew I had to go up there then and pick the best number I could next, so I took No. 11. "It was a free swap," Dubois added with a smile. For a second-year player like Dubois, this draft was different than the one UVA held in 2016 because he didn't have a chance to choose given that he was a rookie at the time. "Last year, I didn't get to pick in the first 50 because I was a first-year," he said, "so I had to wait until the following Thursday. This year, being a second-year and a key player to the team, I was eli- gible to pick in the first 50. I think I was like 20th or something. "The draft, it's something to see. It takes notice of how well you do throughout the spring and winter workouts. The atmo- sphere in the room this year, it was a lot of shocking numbers picked. My teammate, someone else who is in my [wide receiver] room, Joe Reed, he picked 2. No one knew what number he was going to get and Ol- amide Zaccheaus, he picked 4. "So 2, 4, 8 were the numbers every- body wanted to see who was going to get [them]. All of us got those numbers, we're all in the same room. So it was very shocking for everyone." Having the first choice is a coveted position in any draft and for Ellis, whose work ethic is well known throughout the program, it was imperative that he didn't just work hard. That drive comes from one very specific place: He doesn't like letting anyone know when he gets tired. "Now I'm one of the leaders on this team especially in my role, too," he said. "Young guys kind of look to me. If I'm tired, I try to motivate my teammates and that'll get me through." The Georgia native said that while it certainly meant a lot to him to be the first player to select a number last fall, it was even more special this year because of the role he expects to have this season as he and Daniel Hamm take over in the backfield. "Oh, most definitely," he said. "It's re- ally exciting to actually be a leader on the offense, a major contributor on the offense. Just to have another dude like Hamm next to my side, a dude that's been here, we kind of push each other and compete with each other to make the offense better and ultimately make the team better." The way players respond to being able to choose their numbers at the end of camp, it's something that clearly has taken hold in Charlottesville. And it certainly has taken hold in the head coach as well. Mendenhall believes the Wahoos are building something special and a big part of that is the culture and accountability that is now rooted deeply in the fabric of the team. "The foundation and the leadership and the values and principles of the pro- gram are just becoming more and more ingrained, I can see it," he said. "And eventually the performance on the field will catch up to that. But I really like the inside part of our program." Third-year wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus earned the right to choose a coveted single- digit number, and switched his jersey number from 33 to 4. PHOTO BY PETE EMERSON/COURTESY UVA "When someone stood to receive their number, it meant a lot to them that they were recognized by their peers. It's been one of the highlights of my coaching career, those two nights." MENDENHALL ON THE TEAM'S JERSEY NUMBERS DRAFT

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