Nov. 1, 2016
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — University of Virginia football practices are closed to the public, so it’s difficult for the average fan to see No. 26 in action, let alone appreciate his value to the program.
Running back Anthony Calloway, after all, has played in only three games since coming to UVA as a recruited walk-on in the summer of 2013. His teammates and coaches, though, hold Calloway in the highest regard.
“If he’s not there, I literally don’t know how we would practice,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “And so he means as much, if not more, to the team than anyone that you see on Saturday.”
At a typical practice, Virginia’s No. 1 defense works against a group of offensive players known in most programs as the scout team, which runs the next opponent’s system. The Cavaliers call it the victory team, and for much of the season its quarterback has been Matt Johns, with Calloway as the lone running back.
“He and Matt currently might be playing the most valuable roles on our team,” Mendenhall said. “We can’t function — nor could we learn or grow as a team or a defense, specifically — without those players.”
The level of contact at practice peaks on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Calloway, a 5-8, 160-pound redshirt junior from Lynchburg, is often the defense’s target.
“He’s taken a ton of hits,” said graduate assistant Vic So’oto, who coaches the victory team’s offense.
“That’s a definite,” Calloway said, smiling, “that I get tackled more than anybody else on the team.”
So’oto, who played linebacker and defensive end for Mendenhall at BYU, said the “toughest guy on the team is usually the victory-team running back, because he takes all the reps. There’s no sub for him, and there’s no mercy. He’s expected to pop back up and get back out there.”
That’s exactly what Calloway does, time and time again.
“Tuesday through Thursday, the defense hates A.C.,” nose tackle Donte Wilkins said. “I mean, we love him, but he runs hard, he makes guys miss. He gets smacked around, and he doesn’t complain.”
Calloway estimates he carries the ball 30 to 35 times on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday each week.
“The value he adds to us is really immeasurable, because he pops right back up and just goes back into it,” So’oto said. “And there’s no drama. Here, we talk about having a team that’s less drama, more work, and he’s probably the best example of that.”
Not only does Calloway get almost every carry on the victory team — the quarterback sometimes runs — he’s often asked to repeat the same play several times until the defense’s execution satisfies Mendenhall.
“And then the defense knows he’s coming, they know where it’s going, and he’s going to get hit harder and by more people each time, and he doesn’t back away,” said Mendenhall, who’s also the Wahoos’ defensive coordinator.
At Brookville High School, where his teammates included Ben Hogg, now a UVA wide receiver, Calloway played running back and cornerback and returned punts and kickoffs.
Calloway helped lead the Bees to Group AA, Division 3 state titles in 2011 and ’12, and he was also a two-time state champion as a sprinter in track. Still, he drew no serious interest from FBS or FCS programs.
“Here’s the thing: Unfortunately, he doesn’t pass the eye test,” said Jeff Woody, who coached Calloway at Brookville. “A coach comes in and sees him, and sure he can run like the wind, but at the time he was 5-7 and weighed 140 pounds, soaking wet.”
Calloway could have played — and probably starred — at a Division III school, but when offered an opportunity to walk on to the team at UVA, he “decided to make education a priority,” said Woody, now the head coach at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg.
When he chose Virginia, Calloway said, he knew he would be a spectator on most game days. That was fine with him.
“Really, football has just always been something I love to do, no matter what the role is,” Calloway said. “I’ve enjoyed the experience. I really have.”
Calloway is on track to earn his bachelor’s degree in psychology in the spring, and graduate school is likely to follow. He’s interested in human factors psychology and engineering psychology — fields that focus on improving interaction between people and technology — and he said he’s looking at such schools as Clemson, Georgia Tech, Michigan and Carnegie Mellon.
His mother, Eva Fuqua-Carter, has always pushed him to do well in school, Calloway said. His biggest role model academically is his brother, Stacey Houston, who played football at Davidson. Houston is now a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Vanderbilt, from which he earned his master’s in 2015.
In Charlottesville, Calloway lives with teammate Daniel Hamm and former UVA football player LaChaston Smith. Hamm is the Cavaliers’ No. 1 punt-returner, and he excelled in that role Saturday against No. 5 Louisville at Scott Stadium.
Calloway started on kickoff coverage in Virginia’s first two games this season, but he hasn’t played since. Even so, he knows he plays a critical role on the team. Mendenhall and assistant coach Ruffin McNeill tell him so regularly, as do his teammates.
He remembers when, during Virginia’s game against Central Michigan at Scott Stadium, safety Quin Blanding “came to the sideline and said, `I really appreciate what you do over on the scout team,’ ” Calloway said.
Not every player has the toughness or mentality needed to thrive on UVA’s victory team, but in “A.C.’s case, it wasn’t a hard transition for him,” So’oto said.
“For us as a defense, it’s not so much about his speed — and he has great speed — it’s about being able to finish runs the way we need players to finish runs. Because there have been times where we’ve had scout-team running backs who understand exactly what’s going to happen to them, and they hesitate or they slow down, and it doesn’t give you a good picture as a defense if the guy you’re going up against always slows down or flinches.
“A.C. doesn’t flinch, which makes him perfect for his role.”
At the end of every Thursday practice, a Cavalier is recognized as the victory team’s toughest player for that week, to wild applause. Calloway — all 160 pounds of him — has been so honored five times this season.
“He’s just so consistent,” Mendenhall said. “It’s been a great story.”
“He came in with my class, and I love him,” said Wilkins, a senior from Woodbridge. “He’s selfless. If it’s Saturday night and you need somebody to help you out, or it’s Monday or whatever the day, you can call A.C. and he’ll be there to help you.”