Virginia determined to honor the legacies of slain teammates as it returns to the field

Memorial flowers and notes line walkway at Scott Stadium after three football players were killed in a shooting on the grounds of the University of Virginia Tuesday Nov. 15, 2022, in Charlottesville. Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)(AP/Steve Helber)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Moving forward, not moving on.

That will be one of the mantras for Virginia this season as the Cavaliers return to the field after three players were fatally shot and another was wounded last November.

While some players chose to transfer to other programs, many others came back, determined to honor the legacies of Lavel Davis, D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler, the three player slain, with their togetherness and their play.

“For me it was just a no-brainer to come back,” defensive end Chico Bennett said.

“I felt like I left a lot out there,” running back Perris Jones said. “I didn’t put my best foot forward, and I was always raised to do so by my parents. I have a lot more to give, you know. A lot more to give my teammates, a lot more to give my coaches and a lot more to give this program, and that’s what I aim do do.”

Second-year coach Tony Elliott has encouraged his team to turn tragedy into triumph, and said they can do it “by the way that we respond, by the way that we play, by the way that they live, by the way they go forward in the future and the individual ways they decided they want to honor the legacies.”

Running back Mike Hollins, whose return for spring practice four months after the shootings was an inspiration to the Cavaliers, said those tributes will not be valued based on Virginia’s results, and that might be a good thing right from the start.

They open the season Sept. 2 in Nashville, Tennessee, against 12th-ranked Tennessee, then return home for a very emotional home opener against James Madison, a powerhouse in the Group of Five.


With quarterback Brennan Armstrong having transferred to North Carolina State and last year’s backup, Jay Woolfolk, focusing on baseball, the Cavaliers plucked Tony Muskett from Monmouth in the transfer portal. Muskett brings experience, albeit at a lower level, but Elliott said that’s no factor.

“It’s hard to describe. When you talk about quarterbacks, you can’t coach it, but you know it when you see it, and he just has that presence about him,” Elliott said of Muskett’s confidence level.

Muskett threw for 51 touchdowns with 16 interceptions in 23 career starts at Monmouth.


Hollins’ return was big for the psyche of the team, but running the ball has been a challenge for the Cavaliers in recent years. Armstrong led them in rushing two years in a row on his way to setting Virginia quarterback records.

The addition of transfer Kobe Pace from Clemson, the return of Jones (last year’s top rusher behind Armstrong) and a more experienced line could take pressure off Muskett and create the balance offensive coordinator Des Kitchings seeks.


Bennett led the Cavaliers with seven sacks last season and leads the way for a defense that returns eight starters and should be better in its second season under coordinator John Rudzinski. All four starters return on the line, along with two linebackers and three defensive backs.

After a year in the system, “we learn to communicate, we learn to be able to be on the same page and anything that we can create and make it more simple usually is easier,” Rudzinski said. “And the fewer moving parts and the better that we can communicate, simplicity can end up allowing us to just make incremental gains.”


The Cavaliers offense struggled mightily last season as Elliott’s staff transitioned from an all-Armstrong-all-the-time attack the previous year to more balance. This year, it’s more familiar and determined, and resistance to the system has waned.

“We aim to be special, man. Electric,” Jones said.


After the tough start, the Cavaliers will face Armstrong and the Wolfpack in their second home game, have tough tests at North Carolina and Miami and finish at home against Virginia Tech. ACC favorite Clemson is not on the schedule.


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