The spread of the coronavirus has brought with it unprecedented changes in the sports world. It also brought UVa media members a Zoom video conference call with Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall on Thursday.
Mendenhall rocked glasses and a white UVa quarter zip as he sat on his couch and answered questions about the football program. The team recently had its Pro Day and spring game canceled as a result of UVa canceling athletic activity for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year.
Virginia’s head coach addressed a variety of topics during the 40-minute call, including coaching staff announcements, personnel adjustments and spring football’s cancellation.
Coaching staff changes
The announcement isn’t new, but Clint Sintim has taken over the duties as the defensive line coach for Vic So’oto. The news became official on Feb. 15. Sintim replaces, So’oto who accepted the defensive line coaching job at USC.
So’oto’s departure was an emotional one for Mendenhall.
“As has been documented, Vic was the very first player that ever committed to me when I became a head coach,” Mendenhall said. “And so I was with Vic for 15 years. His wife, Ashley, was my personal assistant at BYU, and we went through all kinds of amazing experiences together there. It’s a family that I love and hold very dearly. But they’re also both from the West Coast and both from California, and I think they’re excited for their new challenge, as I am for them.”
Bringing in Sintim fosters a UVa connection within the coaching staff. A former NFL player, Sintim played for the Cavaliers before being drafted to the professional ranks in 2009.
He spent time at UVa as a graduate assistant in 2014 and most recently coached the outside linebackers at Delaware.
“I felt that it’s very important to be adding UVa tradition, UVa passion and UVa history to our program, as myself and my staff came from a different part of the country,” Mendenhall said. “I love the idea of building a program specific to and for the University of Virginia. We’ve had interaction with Clint over about the past three years, through professional exchange as well as alumni functions, and my defensive staff really pushed hard and believed in him and their relationship, and so far I’ve been very impressed. So we’re glad to welcome Clint back.”
UVa also addressed its graduate assistants. Evan Butts, a former UVa player, joined the personnel staff. Kirk Garner was a graduate assistant, and he’s now in personnel. Donte Wilkins is a graduate assistant working with the defensive line.
Joe Spaziani and CJ Stalker are graduate assistants. Charles Mack, the older brother of former linebacker Jordan Mack, is now a graduate assistant as well.
Mendenhall also provided roster updates for a few players.
» Lamont Atkins: The running back decided to stop playing football with an internship lined up in San Antonio.
» PK Kier: The running back left the team to focus on academics.
» Evan Clark: The walk-on linebacker left the program to focus on school.
» RJ Harvey: The quarterback is transferring to a junior college.
» J’Quay Hubbard: He’s transferring to a junior college.
» John Izlar: The wide receiver, who was a walk-on with the men’s lacrosse team, is going to focus his time with the lacrosse team.
» Andrew Spaziani: Left the program to focus on academics.
» Seneca Milledge: The speedy running back/kick returner is in the transfer portal.
» Major Williams: The defensive back entered the transfer portal.
In terms of injuries, Nathaniel Beal, Bobby Haskins, Ryan Nelson and Dillon Reinkensmeyer were expected to miss spring practice for rehab. Beal is a wide receiver and the other three are receivers.
Defensively, Jaylon Baker, Joey Blount, Darrius Bratton and Antonio Clary would have missed the spring. All four of those players are defensive backs. T.C. Harrison and Hunter Stewart, who are both linebackers, would have missed spring. Kicker Brian Delaney would’ve also missed spring ball.
De’Vante Cross and Brenton Nelson, two defensive backs, would have participated in a limited capacity. The same goes for long-snapper Tucker Finkelston as well as linebacker Rob Snyder and center Olusegun Oluwatimi.
No spring football
Spring football offers a critical developmental period for players. Given the Cavaliers’ strength at developing players, it’s going to be a challenge to develop players and talent without the usual spring practice period.
With summer practices uncertain as well, there’s plenty of challenges coming up for the Virginia football program in the next few months. Mendenhall says that pales in comparison to the challenges facing society when it comes to slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
“This had the potential to be basically something that could affect the human family,” Mendenhall said. “It wasn’t difficult for me to frame it in that regard and so football became an afterthought at that point. Student-athlete and just basically human-being welfare became paramount.”
Mendenhall acknowledged the challenge but also said coaches across the country are capable of preparing Division I athletes to play football in the fall with limited organized practices.
“Spring practice has huge benefits for player development, especially when you have a new quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “However, to say that you can’t get a team ready without that just isn’t true. It’s more challenging, it’s more difficult, it will take more work and more innovation, but when you measure that against the circumstances we’re in, it really doesn’t seem that important, quite frankly, in relation to the broader perspective. So we’ll do what we have to do, what we’re allowed to do and when we can do it, to make the most of our football program and team.”