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Virginia running backs feel confident and up to the challenge heading into the season

The RB group has some questions around it, but Mendenhall feels good about the depth and strength of the unit.

Abilene Christian v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Fall camp got underway in Charlottesville on Friday morning as the Virginia football team took the field with three weeks left until the start of the season. One of the big questions around the Wahoo squad this season is the running game, but both head coach Bronco Mendenhall and the players were bullish on the prospects of the unit.

“Lots and lots of competition at the running back spot,” Mendenhall told reporters after Virginia’s first day of fall camp. “With Ronnie Walker being back, and Mike Hollins being back, and Devin Darrington from Harvard coming in — who has had a really strong summer — and Amaad Foston showing up, it’s probably our deepest position.”

While there’s renewed depth in the group than we saw a season ago — Hollins opted out of the COVID-impacted season, Darrington transferred in, and Foston joined as a first year — they’ll all have to beat out a familiar face. “Good luck beating out Wayne,” said Mendenhall. “He seems to win every drill every time they are competing. I like his chances.”

Now in his fourth season with Virginia, Taulapapa has his sights set on becoming the best all-around back as he can be. Last season, the 5’9, 210 pound Taulapapa rushed for just 395 yards in Virginia’s 10 games. He had five rushing touchdowns, tied with QB Brennan Armstrong in the statistic.

Taulapapa worked on his speed and cutting in the offseason, but said he also needed to work on improving his confidence. Having the depth and challengers in the RB room has helped, and he had high praise for his teammates.

“A bunch of them are dogs and beasts,” Taulapapa said after practice. “The way that they work every day, it’s nice to have that competition ... To have the combination of all these guys together, it makes us a better group. We are really underrated right now, but we’re hopeful we can come together and make this group the biggest on team.”

Armstrong is still going to use his legs this season — he led the team with 552 yards rushing last year — but any improvement in the run game will open up so many more options for the Cavaliers. Virginia’s offensive line returns everyone and is widely considered one of the best units in the conference, if not the best.

“The guys up front are the most experienced,” Taulapapa stated matter-of-factly. “Just getting behind them, trusting them, and being confident in what I do, especially when it comes to running the ball.”

The respect between the units is mutual. “All of them are really good all-around backs,” fourth year center Olu Owatimi told the media. “They’ve all shown that they can block first. They got recruited here because they obviously can run the ball, and then they all have sure hands. So, just the versatility of being able to do all of that, and then being interchangeable and when anybody comes in, there’s no drop off.”

It’s still early in preseason, but there may be reason for Mendenhall and the RB crew to have optimism heading towards the season opener against William & Mary on September 4.