Nov. 4, 2017

by Alexa Vignone

Coming to UVA seemed like a no brainer for redshirt sophomore, Eli Hanback. Born and bred in the Richmond area, Hanback grew up driving the hour to come support the Cavaliers week after week. Playing football only seemed natural for Hanback since both his dad and uncles played football and raised Hanback as a fan of the sport from an early age.

“I am from the Richmond area, I have been there my whole life. I went to Patrick Henry High school,” Hanback said. “I’ve been a UVA fan my whole life, so when they offered me, it wasn’t a tough decision.”

Being so close to home has given Hanback a strong sense of support, not only from his family, but also from high school coaches and friends from home. Hanback comes from a supportive network of football fans that have helped him excel in his career. As an only child, Hanback has found a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie through his friends, teammates and his coaching staff.

“My friends are really excited for me,” Hanback said. “Everyone back home and of course everyone on the team supports each other. My friends at school and definitely my friends at home are like brothers to me. We treat each other that way, for sure.”

As a young fan, Hanback used to look up to players and know them by name. Now, he has the opportunity to represent the Virginia in a similar way both on and off the field.

“I knew guys on the team who probably had no idea to this day that I knew who they were,” Hanback said. “As a student-athlete, you have a platform to represent your University and your sport positively. Both in the classroom, outside the classroom and whenever we are back home.”

Hanback started 11 of Virginia’s 12 games last year at defensive end. He made significant progress in this role, but coaches saw a better fit for him at nose tackle. Hanback has started all eight games at his new role, recording 29 tackles on the season so far. The new role required adding some weight and learning a new technique, but the simplicity of the position is something that Hanback has particularly enjoyed.

“Assignment-wise, it is a bit easier with what you need to know and how to do it,” Hanback said. “Physically, I had to get bigger because guys will come at me right down the middle. I definitely had to learn the technique and how to take on double teams. I think that is more of an emphasis at nose than at end. The main transition was gaining weight and learning the technique.”

Despite coming off a two-game losing streak, Hanback and his team have made significant progress for his first year. Over the years, he has gained the trust of teammates and coaches for a consistent performance at whatever position he is placed at. Talk about the Cavaliers going to a bowl game has been on the mind of some of the team, but Hanback knows to take it one game at a time. Consistency, focus, and playing complementary football are the things Hanback hopes to focus on moving forward.

“The last two weeks obviously didn’t go as planned, but for me and for the rest of the team, we have to learn from it and know that it is in the past,” Hanback said. “We need to focus and take it one game at a time and not worry about the record or schedule. We just need to focus on who we have this week and take it one game at a time. If everyone is playing complementary football, we can string some good things together from all sides of the ball.”

Outside of football, you can find Hanback relaxing and listening to music with some of his teammates. Hanback says that most people who know him know of his love for movies. He has been a Star Wars fan his whole life, but what comes as a surprise is his love for the “Firework”-singing pop star, Katy Perry. While he loves Katy Perry and music as a whole, Hanback still has not had the urge to attend a concert of any kind.

“I’ve never actually been to a concert before,” Hanback said. “It doesn’t really appeal to me. People love concerts, but to me, I can just listen to it on my phone.”

Most players have a go to playlist for pregame music and Hanback is no exception. However, his song choice diverts from many people’s typical pump up music.

“Usually I listen to some bag pipes before the game,” Hanback said. “I like to listen to Scotland the Brave and Foggy Dew sometimes too, which I think Conor McGregor also walks out to. Definitely the bagpipes before the game.”

As Hanback continues to blast the bag pipe music and Katy Perry’s tunes, he hopes to help the Cavaliers grow and win games.

“We need all four sides of the ball,” Hanback said. “We need the sidelines to be hype. We need good special teams play, defensive stops and the offense to drive down the field and score. I think everyone can feed off of each other’s momentum and that really helps get us going.”