Sept. 9, 2017

by Alexa Vignone

A focus for the Cavaliers while preparing for the 2017 season was to retool itself after a tough 2016 season and that included making strength training a priority. One of the players who made a noticeable change in his body as well as his intensity on the field was Chris Peace.

For Peace, it was more than just building his physique. He has developed into a defensive leader for the Cavaliers as he has matured and gained on-field experience. A large piece of his leadership role is founded on confidence and trust in himself.

“I’m definitely a lot bigger. I’m playing a lot more physically,” Peace said. “Last year I think I had the ability, but at times, I didn’t have much confidence. I didn’t always think I could do certain things when I really could.”

Physical improvement was just part of the team’s approach heading into this system. There was also a commitment to an improved overall team dynamic. Spending months on and off the field together, Peace recognizes the importance team chemistry would have on better results. Second year head coach Bronco Mendenhall set up off the field opportunities for team bonding preseason training camp, such as surprise trip to tube on the James River, pool parties and a watch party for the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight.

Peace views those as opportunities for this team to grow together.

“I think there is a lot more chemistry with us this year,” Peace said. “Everyone is a bit closer and spends more time together. We all hang out together outside of practice, which wasn’t necessarily the case last year. We are more of a family.”

The Cavalier defense entered the season opener with eight returning starters and that experience should be an advantage for the Hoos. With the development of friendships amongst the team, Peace noted a special bond he has shared with defensive end Andrew Brown

“I’ve known Andrew since I was in seventh grade and he’s basically family,” Peace said. “We pretty much do everything together, and we are always around each other. We are even roommates so we have a lot of trust between each other.”

Peace has high hopes for the team this season, but knows the team is going to have to put together full games if they want to improve.

“We need to start games a lot faster than we did last year,” Peace said. “We need to actually finish the game too. In the past few years, there has been a trend where the whole game is close until the other team makes a great play at the end. We need to play from start to finish.”

While Peace has seen a lot of growth for himself as well as the team on the field, UVA has also had a major impact on him in the classroom.

“UVA made me grow up really fast and become a better student,” Peace said. “Those first two years really forced me to grow up quickly and I really started to buckle down.”

Some of Peace’s classes have even translated to recent events in the Charlottesville community. An American Studies major, Peace had the opportunity to study the racial tensions that arose in Charlottesville this past summer. Peace, along with many of his teammates, joined UVA in a candlelight vigil on The Lawn in August.

“It was really emotional, but nice to see everyone come together in that moment to share feelings and to sing along,” Peace recalled.

With what has transpired, Peace hopes the football team can be a rallying point for the community.

“I think we can bring the whole town together,” Peace said. “Every person can go to the game and unite as a Virginia family. Football is a sport that everyone can enjoy and UVA is something we all have in common.”

Peace also has some hidden skills. When not playing football or going to class, he finds himself at home cooking.

“My favorite thing to do off the field is to cook,” Peace said. “My grandma could cook really well and I always watched what she was doing. I like to challenge myself with what I cook. Sometimes I’ll see something on TV, then Google the recipe, look through videos, and then try it out myself.”

Through his enjoyment of developing his skills, whether it be football, school or cooking, Peace has gained a confidence that he is excited to bring to the football field.

“This year, nothing is holding me back,” Peace said. “I know I can perform the way I have to this year.”