May 1, 2018
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the football field, there are two sides to wide receiver Hasise Dubois: the one that pleases his coaches at the University of Virginia and the one that frustrates them.
Both were evident on the last play of the Cavaliers’ 15th and final practice of the spring Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium. Dubois ran a fade route to the left side of the end zone and, well-defended by cornerback Darrius Bratton, came down with a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bryce Perkins.
“He made an outstanding play,” offensive coordinator Robert Anae said of Dubois, a 6-3, 210-pound rising junior from Irvington, New Jersey.
Moments later, however, Dubois tossed the ball at Bratton, who was on the ground. The official standing nearby threw his flag, penalizing Dubois for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Wide receivers coach Marques Hagans said Dubois needs to learn “that he can make plays without the antics. He can play tough without the extra stuff. That’s the thing I won’t relent on, nor will the team, because I want us to feel happy as a team with the results, not sad because of one man’s decision to do something that made him feel better.”
To Virginia’s coaching staff, the penalty was all too reminiscent of the one Doni Dowling incurred last season against Duke at Scott Stadium. After scoring on a pass from quarterback Kurt Benkert, Dowling did a somersault in the end zone, a move that drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The penalty was assessed on the ensuing kickoff, which Duke returned to the Virginia 12-yard line. Three plays later, the Blue Devils scored to cut the Cavaliers’ 14-point lead to seven.
Hasise said he didn’t intend to hit Bratton with the ball, but the coaching staff didn’t buy that. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed the matter with his team in the locker room.
“It didn’t take long to tie it directly to a season ago with Doni and [the penalty against Duke],” Mendenhall said.
Punishment for Dubois was a series of up-downs. “I believe the closer the accountability is to the action, the more powerful the lesson,” Mendenhall said.
“I’ll take that on me,” Dubois said. “I’ve just got to make better decisions and the next time just run to the huddle with the ball.”
A graduate of DePaul Catholic High, Dubois chose UVA over such schools as Boston College, Illinois, Kentucky, Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse.
As a true freshman in 2016, Mendenhall’s first season at Virginia, Dubois started two games. He caught eight passes for 99 yards, with a long reception of 26 yards.
In 2017, he started five of the 12 games in which he played and finished the season with 12 catches for 120 yards and one touchdown.
Two of the Cavaliers’ most productive receivers last season, Dowling and Andre Levrone, were seniors, so Dubois has a chance to earn a larger role this season. To do so, though, Dubois needs to become more consistent, more mature and more productive, Mendenhall said. “To this point, he hasn’t been able to put that together.”
An outside receiver in 2016, Dubois moved inside last season. He’s back outside this year.
Dubois has the talent to become a “go-to target,” said Hagans, who was a standout receiver and quarterback at UVA. “He can win one-on-one matchups. He can be physical in the run game. He can help in the special teams department. He brings the attitude and the mentality that gives life to our group. But at the same time, if he doesn’t correct the simple mistakes, the bad choices, he can also destroy our group.”
Dubois said he’s trying to stay on “a straight-and-narrow path.” He knows, in part because the coaching staff has reminded him, that a penalty such as Dowling’s against Duke can hurt the team.
“I’ve just got to make better decisions,” said Dubois, who’s eager to continue honing his skills.
“I’m going home for about a month and a half,” he said. “I’m going to be training there day in and day out, to come back ready in the summer to ball out for my team. There’s a lot of weight on my shoulders right now. [The coaches] want to see me mature, they want to see me make plays. I’ve just got to do that and a little bit more.
“I know this year’s going to be the big breakout year for me.”
“At this point it’s his job to lose,” Mendenhall said of Perkins, who began his college career at Arizona State. “He has moved the team most effectively, and I think not only does he have the coaches’ trust, he has the team’s trust.
Stone is a rising sophomore. Armstrong is a true freshman who, like Perkins, enrolled at UVA in January.
The 6-3, 215-pound Perkins has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Unlike Benkert, the Wahoos’ starter in 2016 and ’17, Perkins is as dangerous with his legs as with his right arm.
“In the open field, he kind of gobbles up space,” Anae said.
When Perkins takes off, Mendenhall said, “I don’t think anyone on our team will catch him. That’s what I’ve seen this spring. Once he’s in the open, we don’t catch him.”
Asked what he’s learned about Perkins this spring, Mendenhall responded at length.
“He’s humble. He’s driven. He’s zero drama,” Mendenhall said. “He doesn’t want any special attention. He’s a quick learner, a natural leader and just a productive and dynamic athlete.”
The final practice was open to media and fans. The playmaking was “very vanilla,” as Mendenhall put it, and quarterbacks were off-limits to tacklers. Still, Mendenhall said, “I think you still saw what Bryce Perkins is capable of. There were glimpses here and there [of] the kind of dynamic big-play threat that he is.”
SEPARATING THEMSELVES: Virginia’s base defense is a 3-4. Coming out of the spring, Mendenhall said, the Cavaliers’ starting linebackers are Chris Peace and Charles Snowden on the outside and Jordan Mack and Malcolm Cook on the inside.
Snyder, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, missed last season with an injury and so “we didn’t have a chance to see him much,” Mendenhall said.
Gahm played in seven games as a true freshman last season, mostly on special teams.
With Peace sidelined by an injury most of the spring, Gahm “just made the most of his opportunity,” Mendenhall said. “Matt was put there, and he just stayed there. That was good, because [Snyder and Gahm] were two people we didn’t know how much and how far they would have come along, and they helped themselves.”
Gahm, who stands 6-3, graduated from Highland Park High School in Dallas. As a senior in 2016, when his teammates included John Stephen Jones, grandson of the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, Gahm helped the Scots win the Class 5A Division I state title in front of 35,089 fans at AT&T Stadium.
“It was crazy,” Gahm recalled Saturday.
Of his transition to ACC football, Gahm said, “No level of high school can prepare you for this, and until you get here and start playing with some big defensive linemen, big offensive linemen, and start taking on pulling guards that weigh 330 pounds, you’re really not ready for it. But the best preparation has come from our coaching staff. Coach Mendenhall and the defensive staff have emphasized to never quit, never give in, have a killer mindset every single play.”
Gahm, who weighed about 220 pounds when he enrolled at UVA, is up to 235.
FAST LEARNER: Richard Burney, who moved from tight end to defensive end before the Military Bowl in December, is growing ever more comfortable at his new position.
“Tremendous,” Mendenhall said Saturday when asked about Burney’s progress at defensive end.
The Cavaliers came into the spring with little depth on the defensive line, and they become thinner last month when a medical condition forced James Trucilla to give up football.
The 6-4, 265-pound Burney, who’ll be a redshirt junior in the fall, gives the `Hoos another “healthy, capable defensive lineman,” Mendenhall said.
Burney’s development over the course of spring practice, Mendenhall said, was “probably the most accelerated of any player on our team.”
He came out of the spring as a starter, but Burney still has much to learn about playing end. “We’re racing against the clock with him,” Mendenhall said.
Asked about an impressive play Burney made Saturday, Mendenhall said, “That’s been pretty consistent all spring. There’s fundamental work, fundamental work, fundamental work, and then he makes a play. It’s like, `OK, good. Let’s keep him there and we’ll keep working.’ So he keeps you intrigued by his potential.”
SETTING THE STANDING: Mendenhall said the Cavaliers’ “defensive leaders in terms of mindset” this spring were Peace, Mack and Juan Thornhill. Peace and Thornhill will be seniors in the fall. Mack is a rising junior.
Thornhill, who’s heading into his third year as a starter, has played cornerback and safety during his UVA career. Injuries sidelined safeties Brenton Nelson and Joey Blount for most of the spring, and Thornhill took over the role All-America safety Quin Blanding played last season.
“Those are big shoes to fill, but not only in leadership but intellect,” Mendenhall said. “Quin was very sharp in helping us get the defense lined up, and very productive, which means he rarely missed a tackle. But then there was just the constant presence, that he was always going to be where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do.
“Juan is physically really capable and could be a dynamic playmaker. And now he’s learning to take on the leadership responsibilities that come with that.”
Thornhill made the All-ACC third team at cornerback last season.