The workouts haven’t changed much in strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold’s second summer with the Virginia football team. They certainly aren’t any easier, but when the reps get tough, the Cavaliers fall back on a simple, yet poignant, mantra.
It’s plastered across the chest of their team T-shirt in white, blocky letters, with Virginia’s sabres in place of the V, and the Cavaliers’ belief is what carried them through to Friday’s final summer conditioning session.
“There’s something unique about this place, and it’s not just UVa but [head coach] Bronco [Mendenall] and how he’s built this program,” Griswold said. “These guys really love each other. You could see it today, and it’s not fake. It’s truly authentic, from the walk-on guy to the scholarship guy to Bryce Perkins and Bryce Hall, who have all the accolades.”
In what has become an annual tradition, inside linebacker Jordan Mack wielded a sledge hammer at the end of the workout. Surrounded by a mob of animated teammates, he lifted his chin to the sky and shouted “Beat Pitt” before bringing the hammer down to “break the rock.”
The rock is a square concrete paver, painted with a frosty mountain scene and emblazoned with another of the Cavaliers’ ever-present mantras “Beat Tech.” Breaking the rock is a tradition Griswold brought with him from Arizona State. Last season, Olamide Zaccheaus wielded the hammer, and he went on to break his own season receptions record with (93) and set Virginia’s career receptions record with 250.
Griswold said he knew a week ago that Mack was going to be the first of what the Cavaliers hope will be many players to break the rock this season. The ceremony is repeated after every win.
“He’s been through the lean years, Bronco’s first year, which was like the leaning out period of who really wants to be here and embodies what UVa is all about,” Griswold said. “And then just the progress he has made. You look at his strength numbers, but the leadership is what has really changed for him. He’s really stepped out and become a leader.”
Playing in the shadow of former Virginia linebacker Micah Kiser, Mack finished the 2017 season ranked No. 5 in the ACC with 114 tackles. Despite missing four games last season with a shoulder injury, he finished second on the team with 66 stops.
This fall, Mack leads a group of linebackers, which includes returning starters Charles Snowden, Zane Zandier and Rob Snyder and may be one the best units in the ACC.
“He has been working all year. Jordan is one of the leaders on the team, and I believe he’s going to have a big year,” Virginia running back PK Kier said on Friday. “The way he does things, he’s just like [former UVa running back Jordan Ellis] except he talks a little more.”
Virginia opens the season Aug. 31 at Pitt.