Cavalier Corner

October 2017

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OCTOBER 2017 17 BY ANDREW RAMSPACHER J ORDAN ELLIS AND DANIEL Hamm were hotel roommates last season. The night before the Uni- versity of Virginia had football games in 2016, the two Cavaliers would talk about the future. "This is going to be us next year," they told each other while they watched film of teammates Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell and Albert Reid. Mizzell and Reid were the first main run- ning backs of the Bronco Mendenhall era. The fourth-year duo combined for 1,872 total yards and 14 touchdowns last year, providing positives in an otherwise struggle of a 2-10 campaign. Mizzell was "Mr. Do it All," the first player in Atlantic Coast Conference history with more than 1,500 career rushing yards and 1,500 career receiving yards. In the end, the Virginia Beach native lived up to his billing as a five-star recruit. Mizzell never got the Cavaliers to a bowl game, but his college résumé allowed him an NFL opportunity. Mizzell's sidekick was Reid, a power- style runner who transferred from Mary- land in 2015 and provided UVA with a nice change-of-pace option. Ellis and Hamm, Virginia's backups in 2016, had to wait for their opportunity. Their patience was tested, sure, but the downtime was never wasted. "We were playing a backup role, playing on special teams," Ellis said. "We just did that to the best of our abilities to help the team out. "In practice, we were still getting reps. We would just try to perfect our craft so next year it would be easy when were in that situ- ation. Come game time, we would be ready when it's us two out there in the place of Smoke and Al." On Sept. 2, 2017, their time arrived. Both Ellis and Hamm started when Virginia be- gan year No. 2 of the Mendenhall era with a 28-10 win over William & Mary Sept. 2. Ellis carried 20 times for 80 yards and a touchdown. He also had a receiving score. Hamm carried seven times for 35 yards and also caught four passes. During UVA's 2-1 start, Ellis was the Cavaliers' leading rusher with 219 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries (4.1 yards per rush). He also had five receptions for 25 yards and a score. Hamm ranked second on the team in rushing yards with 15 attempts for 54 yards (3.6 per carry) and one touchdown, and was the team's third-leading receiver (nine catches) and top punt returner (6.8-yard average on four chances). "As the competitor that I am, you always want to be on the field, helping your team," Ellis said. "But I knew it wasn't my time. I knew my role in the offense, and my role was more so on special teams and things like that. I knew this year, I'd have the op- portunity that I have now, and that kept me working hard every day." Ellis' reputation is reflected in his jersey number. The third-year is No. 1, a nod to having the first selection in the Mendenhall- created jersey draft. The order of such a draft is chosen by the Virginia players them- selves. Work hard and be a good teammate and you'll find yourself near the top. Ellis has had the first pick two years running. "His impact is hard to describe because he doesn't say anything," Mendenhall said of Ellis. "He and I can get along really well on the field. We just stare at each other a lot. But he works really, really hard. "He's the unanimous pick, again not by what he's saying, but his influence and how he works and who he is. "And that's a huge statement to have that two years in a row, especially when you're considering Micah [Kiser] was the second pick. For anyone to be selected over him by their peers, that's quite a statement." Kiser, a two-time captain and All-Amer- ican linebacker, was describing Ellis to a reporter last month when he looked up to see the back heading out to the practice field for extra reps. "And that's at the end of practice, at the end of a lift," Kiser said. "That's the kind of guy he is. That's why he's the No. 1 pick." Though Ellis isn't much for talking, Kiser got him to reveal something important two years ago. The 2015 season was over, and Mike London, the coach who recruited Ellis to Virginia out Suwanee, Ga., was dismissed. There was uncertainly on several levels. Who would replace London? Would Ellis get more of a playing oppor- tunity with the next hire? "Jordan was thinking about transferring," Kiser said. "He was thinking about leaving. I was like, 'You'd be an idiot to do that. I know you're behind Smoke, but just wait and it'll be your time.'" Ellis doesn't deny the story. "I had to mature as a young man," Ellis said. "Sometimes, you just have to wait for your opportunity. I was being impatient in the moment. I wanted everything to happen for me right now. "I'm really glad that I stuck with it and stuck with the process. Now it's all paying off for me. If I would have left, I probably wouldn't be in the situation I'm in now. "I would say just being patient and trust- ing the process, trusting everything around me was important. I just wanted everything to happen right there in the moment." He decided against his original thoughts and stayed in Charlottesville. Mendenhall was soon hired, bringing with him from BYU running backs coach Mark Atuaia. The energetic Atuaia beamed with pride recently when asked about Ellis twice being selected to pick first in the jersey draft. "That's his inner drive, his purpose," At- uaia said. "He plays the game for something important to him." Ellis and Hamm are part of a running back group that features three true first-years, a trio Atuaia is excited about because they flash Ellis-like traits on the practice field. "That's one of the reasons why I recruited the three that I did," Atuaia said of Lamont Atkins, P.K. Kier and Jamari Peacock. "They have a similar purpose. I like tap- ping into that ,and I'm anticipating them doing well throughout their years here on Grounds." Ellis, Atkins, Kier and Peacock entered UVA on scholarship. That was something Hamm had to fight to earn. A lightly recruited, but decorated high school athlete, Hamm came to Charlottes- ville from Wytheville, Va., as a walk-on. He lettered in football, basketball and track at Fort Chiswell High School. He twice took the state triple jump championship, and amassed more than 2,500 total yards on the gridiron, including 1,902 rushing yards as a senior. The big numbers but little college recog- nition created a chip on the 5-9, 200-pound- er's shoulder. "I've always had that chip because I've always had something to prove," Hamm said. "Coming from a small town, I'm never satisfied with where I am. I'm always trying to progress." "As the competitor that I am, you always want to be on the field, helping your team. But I knew it wasn't my time. I knew my role in the offense, and my role was more so on special teams and things like that. I knew this year, I'd have the opportunity that I have now, and that kept me working hard every day." ELLIS

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