The Virginia Cavaliers football team hasn’t played a game in 290 days. The program hasn’t suited up against an outside opponent since the tragic shooting on November 13th. But they will on Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers with the memories of Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry, and Lavel Davis Jr. in their hearts and on their minds.
It’s the goal of turning tragedy into triumph which Tony Elliott described in the weeks following last November’s shooting that will be most prominent for the Wahoos on Saturday. That doesn’t mean results; it means opportunity.
“Every day is the triumph for us,” said Elliott in his press conference Tuesday afternoon. “I believe as a program, every day that we continue to wake up and come to work, put our best foot forward, that’s the triumph in all of this.”
He added that he and his team are well aware of what it means for them to be playing Tennessee, a top-tier national program, on ABC at noon in week one of the college football season.
“Now we have an opportunity on a national stage to show just how resilient the human spirit is,” Elliott said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to, just seeing the guys play in a way that inspires people because we know the responsibility that we have to the legacies of the ones that we lost and we’ve got a great opportunity.”
“Football is a great unifier,” he added. “People will be watching. The situation is gonna come back up. It’s going to be right in front of us and we have a chance to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to accept the challenge and be the ones that’re going to triumph every single day.’”
As Elliott and his staff balance building a program, moving forward from November’s tragedy, but also not moving past it, it’s not the final score that matters most. At least on Saturday, it’s about being an inspiration.
“The outcome of the game don’t necessarily determine the triumph,” Elliott pointed out. “For me it’s about how the guys play. And if they play in a way that inspires others then they’re going to give themselves a chance in each game they play to be in it all the way to the end.”
Saturday being Virginia’s first game since the deaths of Davis Jr., Perry, and Chandler also means another step in honoring their legacies.
Elliott said that the program will definitely be “carrying the Davis family, the Chandler, family, the Perry family with us when we step on the field knowing their sons should have been with us,” and that their goal is to “try and use that energy and channel it to play in such a way that everyone says, ‘You know what, that’s a triumphant bunch of individuals considering everything they been through.’”
With more information coming on further efforts to honor Davis Jr., Chandler, and Perry next week in the lead-up to the home opener, for now it’s former high school teammates of Perry and Davis Jr. who will be honoring them by wearing their jersey numbers this season.
“One thing I wanted from us as a program is to make sure their legacies are visible every time we step on the field,” said Elliott. “That was the motivation behind the patches that are going to be on 1, 15, and 41. Right now we had several guys already in those numbers that are wearing them.”
Will Bettridge will be wearing no. 41 to honor Perry, his high school teammate and friend, and Suderian Harrison wearing no. 1 to do the same for Davis. Moving forward, the program will continue to select specific players to wear numbers 1, 15, and 41.
“We’ll get input from the families,” noted Elliott. “It’ll be a selection process to be able to wear those jersey numbers. For me it was about being able to honor them every time we step on the field. So not only did you see the No. 1, 15, or 41, but you also had the patch that has their names, initials, and all that stuff on it.”
Saturday’s game marks a new beginning for the UVA football program. Last November will always weigh heavy in the hearts of players, coaches, students, and fans. It’s given new meaning to this program and this fanbase and there’s no doubt that the Charlottesville and UVA communities are behind this team 100%. If every day is the triumph, then every triumph is a culmination of accomplishments worth celebrating ten times over.