Last Friday night (May 31), over a hundred women of all ages and skill levels — myself included —gathered in a semi circle inside the George Welsh Indoor Facility. Rain and lightning showered down, but the atmosphere inside was anything but dark. It was the first Virginia Women’s Football Clinic under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and the nine groups of ladies had an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at on and off-the-field action.
After checking in at the McCue center and getting to take a look at the weight and locker rooms (and after a brief weather delay thanks to intense lightning), we scurried across the practice field to the indoor facility. Coach Mendenhall welcomed the campers, telling the group that the team phrase “We Are the Storm” now also, quite literally, applied to us.
Mendenhall dropped a couple jokes — including one savage dig at South Carolina still not having scored any points on the Virginia defense — before he introduced his staff and players in attendance. Strength and Conditioning coach Shawn Griswold led the group in some dynamic stretching to loosen us up before we broke into our respective groups for positional drills.
The set up was quite simple, but very effective. Over the next hour and a half, the campers worked their way through nine stations, each run by a coach and with the help of a couple players (please forgive me if anyone was left out). At each station, the coaches would run the groups of 20-or-so women through a drill that illustrated a basic skill of each position.
Station One: Defensive Backs
Coach: Nick Howell
Players: De’Vante Cross, Nick Grant
At the defensive backs station, Coach Howell opened with a description of the DBs role and how they fit into the larger defensive set up. Backpedaling may sound easy, but not falling on your ass and making of a fool of yourself is easier said than done. Coach Howell was one of the coaches that started out the session with more questions and managed it in a way that was informative and not alienating of any fans that weren’t football experts.
Station Two: Offensive Line
Coach: Garrett Tujague
Players: Dillon Reinkensmeyer, Victor Oluwatimi, Chris Glaser
Skill: Stance and hand work
Don’t you dare call it not a skill position. First things first, you learn the O-Line stance (hello, knees) and the jump step to get things started when you block. After the experts checked our technique, we moved onto
Station Three: Kicking
Coach: Ricky Brumfield, Drew Meyer (Grad Assistant)
Skill: FIELD GOAL KICKING!!
This may have been my favorite, no offense to all the other stations. Coach Brumfield, who oversees the drastically improved special teams for the Hoos, gave the campers a sense of just how difficult field goal kicking is. It’s not just the kick, it’s the snap, the hold, and the kick. We had a chance to practice some kicks off the tee before attempting a full snap, hold, kick.
Station Four: Defensive Line
Coach: Vic So’oto, Jackson Matteo (Graduate Assistant)
Players: Chris Moore
Skill: Footwork and breaking through the line
Welcome to the “Silverbacks”. Coach So’oto, Jackson Matteo, and Chris Moore — who introduced himself as “not Bryce Perkins” — ran us through a footwork drill before letting us take some frustrations out on dummies simulating the opposing offensive line.
Station Five: Linebackers
Coach: Kelly Poppinga, Shane Hunter
Players: Jordan Mack, Dre Bryant, CJ Stalker
Skill: Pursuit and footwork
The linebacker station featured two portions. First, a pursuit drill that simulated trying to catch up with an opposing quarterback:
After that, we worked on backpedaling, running, and maneuvering in a tight space, and finished it with “an interception” (read: a lightly tossed ball).
Station Six: Wide Receivers
Coach: Marques Hagans
Players: Terrell Jana, Joe Reed
Skill: Routes and catching
Participants ran a short and long route, catching a pass of anywhere from 10-35 yards. Hagans got one of the most vocal reactions from the crowd when he was introduced, which is understandable based on his history with Virginia. Reed and Jana — like all of the players involved — were extremely engaging and nice enough not to throw it too hard.
Station Seven: Photos with Bronco
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
Players: Belk Bowl Trophy
Skill: Being photogenic
PICS WITH THE TROPHY!!
Station Eight: Quarterbacks
Coach: Jason Beck
Skill: Throwing and accuracy
The quarterback station was pretty straightforward: you threw the ball. After letting the group get comfortable throwing in pairs, the ladies split between three mini-stations that focused on accuracy. One of the stations featured trying to hit the crossbar of the uprights, which is way harder than it sounds (at least it was for me).
Station Nine: Running Backs
Coach: Justin Anderson
Players: Jamari Peacock
Skill: Ball carrying
Running backs coach Mark Atuaia was present at the beginning of the event, but had to jet early because one of his kids was graduating from high school. Director of Player Personnel Justin Anderson (not THAT Justin Anderson) and High School Relations Director Blanda Wolfe took over the RB station in his absence, helped by current player Jamari Peacock. We learned the proper way to hold the football (five points of contact!), and did some running drills.
In all, the event was extremely well run and a great opportunity for Virginia football fans of all ages and levels of technical interest to learn a little bit (or a lot) about what the staff is doing. “This is the first one we’ve done at Virginia,” Coach Hunter said when things had wrapped at the indoor facility. “It was awesome. It was a lot of fun. You can tell that everyone is having a ton of fun...it’s not meant to be anything too extravagant.”
Everyone involved was extremely approachable and eager to answer questions about their respective positions, but the players on hand went above and beyond.
“We didn’t have to be here, we chose to be here,” Reed said of the player participation in the event. “We think it’s so cool to have the time to interact with our fans. A lot, or most, of these women are super fans, but we never really have time to talk to them or spend time with them, so my teammates and I knew it was a great opportunity to really get to know our fans.”
“This is awesome. It’s great to get out here and see the community,” Reinkensmeyer commented after the event, echoing his teammates sentiments. When asked whether the men or women have the better football questions, the third year tackle answered wisely. “The women. 100%.”