Sept. 3, 2016
By: Tom Fenstermaker
Persistent positivity, an abundant work ethic and an unrelenting daily philosophy to improve makes University of Virginia fifth-year senior safety Wilfred Wahee stand out from the crowd.
Wahee has been through ups and downs throughout his first four years in Charlottesville.
The Norfolk, Va., native redshirted in 2012 before suffering a season-ending torn left ACL before being able to step on the field for the first game in 2013. After putting in time on special teams in 2014, Wahee played all 12 games for the second-consecutive season last year and made six starts before another injury prematurely ended the season finale against Virginia Tech.
To think that another injury would deter Wahee would be a mistake.
“I knew if I applied myself and did everything that I could, I would be back before the season started,” Wahee said. “Ever since I got injured the first time, I have been working on being more present, focusing on what I can accomplish in the present day and building on those days instead of looking too far in the future and getting anxious and nervous about getting back on the field.”
To reinforce that approach, Wahee talks to his brothers, of which he is the second-oldest of five boys (they also have an older sister), about being productive each and every day. He also has developed a highly-constructive friendship with former Cavalier standout Canaan Severin, including taking a seemingly mundane task and turning it into a critical thinking exercise.
“Wil and I came in together in the same recruiting class and ever since he came to Charlottesville, he has been a hard worker, a great teammate and was always looking to get better,” Severin said. “He has been through a lot, with his share of injuries and it’s not like they were small injuries, but when we would work out, including last summer, we would always push each other and say, `let’s be stronger than we were yesterday, stronger than we were this morning and keep improving and growing every day.
“This started in our first year, when I lived in Gooch/Dillard next to the stadium and we would play a lot of the FIFA video game. During the games we would talk about successful people in the game, like Cristiano Ronaldo, and talk about the time, effort and hard work it must have taken him to become as successful as he is. We both really enjoyed talking about that and have that mindset about what it takes to be on that level. Even three weeks ago, when I was over at his place before I left for preseason, we were playing FIFA and having those same conversations.”
Wahee prides himself with a philosophy of improving himself each and every day and thinking about what it takes to be highly successful.
“The thing I always text Canaan and talk to my brothers about is being stronger than we were yesterday, so that we can push through and get the job done whenever there is a play that we are feeling tired or another day when we might not be feeling our best,” Wahee said.
Another person in the UVA locker room that instills positivity to others is new head football coach Bronco Mendenhall. Even from the first team meeting where Mendenhall addressed the Cavaliers, Wahee knew that he and his new coach had something in common.
“I knew Coach Mendenhall was a perfect fit for our team when he used the phrase, `Earned Not Given,’ Wahee said. “A lot of people in the room were taken aback by it because it was a different approach and they were not used to starting from the ground up. Not me, that is the kind of stuff I like. His principles are perfect for what the team needs. It is a great fit.”
Their relationship has grown since that first team meeting, but one special moment stands out.
“I was in the training room one day after rehab and he walked in and I said, `What’s up, Coach?’ and he responded, `How are we doing, are we stronger than we were yesterday?’
“It just hit me like, `Wow!’ I had never talked to him about that. It was almost like every single thing that he has talked about with us is already something I have prioritized and something that is a value in my life. He is the best thing that has ever happened to this team and to me, from a coaching standpoint.”
Looking ahead to the season with a new coaching staff and philosophy, Wahee expects the team mentality of getting better and stronger every day to show up in the results.
“We are extremely excited,” Wahee said. “That is what we focused on the whole summer, creating excitement. The whole team has bought in, which is different than what we have had in the past. We have a mission statement as a team and everybody knows the goal. We do our assignments, execute with total effort, everything that Coach Mendenhall preaches. We just take it day-by-day and by the end of the season, we will add up those days and those wins and will accomplish our goal.”
With the way Wahee approaches each day, those goals are well in sight.