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Virginia Football players working to “take back our Grounds”

Players and coaches drive initiative to march from Downtown Charlottesville to the Rotunda.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach the three-year anniversary of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally that took place over August 11-12 in 2017, the Virginia Cavaliers football team is reclaiming Charlottesville. With an aim of bringing unity to the city and make Charlottesville a better place, several Cavalier players and coaches have taken to social media with the goal of encouraging others to complete a march from the Downtown Mall to the Rotunda.

“In light of recent events across the country, we as the University of Virginia Football team decided to come together to figure out how we could make a difference and make a change within our community and across the country,” Marques Hagans said in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday, August 9. Hagans, a former Virginia player and current wide receivers coach, was joined by senior linebacker Zane Zandier and senior cornerback Nick Grant as they delivered their message:

Hagans and the players came up with the idea to “Take Back Our Grounds,” naming themselves the Grounds Keepers as they shared an idea of participating in a walk from downtown to the heart of Grounds. “It wasn’t long before this group had a mission statement and a name — The Grounds Keepers — which is an awesome name, right?” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said on a Zoom with media on Monday. “It’s our Grounds, and they want it to be an amazing place, and it already is, but there’s things we can improve.”

The march starts at Heather Heyer Way — the street named in honor of the woman who lost her life after a white nationalist purposefully drove into a crowd of people peacefully counter-protesting the Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017 — before heading to the Enslaved Workers Memorial and the Rotunda.

Here is the route:

@csnoww3 Twitter

In small groups (fewer than five people), Virginia’s players and coaches have made the walk. Wide receiver Terrell Jana (and his dog!), Chris Glaser, Charles Snowden, Brenton Nelson, Zandier, Hagans, and Coach Justin Anderson are just some of those that have participated and posted their thoughts to various social media channels.

Mendenhall posted a video on Monday afternoon to reflect on his own walk. “We chose to take this march in direct opposition and the exact opposite direction of the events that happened in the death of Heather Heyer,” Mendenhall stated. “We’re standing against hate, inequality, anything that doesn’t reflect well on the state of mankind, especially at the University of Virginia.”

On the field, the Virginia Football team officially started fall practice Monday as the season remains in jeopardy as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.