CHARLOTTESVILLE – Released for the big screen in 1967, the action-packed World War II film The Dirty Dozen featured such notables as Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy and legendary former football player Jim Brown.
“It’s been a while, but I’ve seen the movie,” Eli Hanback said after practice Tuesday night. “Jim Brown.”
In the University of Virginia football program, The Dirty Dozen for the 2018 season consists of 12 players: defensive back Juan Thornhill, wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, running back Jordan Ellis, quarterback Bryce Perkins, linebackers Jordan Mack, Malcolm Cook, Chris Peace and Zane Zandier, offensive lineman Marcus Applefield and defensive linemen Richard Burney, Mandy Alonso and Hanback.
For their performances in Shawn Griswold’s offseason strength and conditioning program, the players each received a black T-shirt with Virginia Football on the front and The Dirty Dozen on the back.
“Twelve total. That’s not a lot on a 110-man roster,” said Griswold, who took over in January as UVA’s director of football development and performance. He previously held that position at Arizona State, Pittsburgh, Tulsa and Utah State, where he played tight end and from which he has two degrees.
The competition is the brainchild of Griswold, who’s held it each summer for nearly two decades.
The Dirty Dozen is determined in testing during the last week of the summer strength and conditioning program, which at UVA ended late last month. Four players are honored from each of three position groups: skill (running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks, defensive backs), big skill (linebackers, tight ends) and big (linemen).
“It’s based off performance: your bench, your squat, your clean, your vertical jump, your broad jump, your pro agility [drill], your shuttle, your 225,” Griswold said.
“Everything that we test is on a point system, by position [group]. So we add them all add up at the end. Basically, you need to be good across the board, and hopefully you’re great across the board, and you have to be consistent across the board to [make the Dirty Dozen].”
For Perkins, who enrolled at UVA in January, this is the second time he’s been so honored. He began his college career at Arizona State, where his strength coach was Griswold, and earned the designation at the Pac-12 school.
“I just always try to compete, regardless,” Perkins said. “At the beginning of the summer, I wasn’t even thinking about Dirty Dozen. I was just trying to be the best I could be and improve my numbers.
“God’s the one that gave me the ability to be athletically gifted, so I thank him. Besides that, it’s just putting the effort in every time to try to be one of the top guys.”
Of the 12 players, four (Applefield, Cook, Ellis and Peace) will compete as graduate students this fall. Zaccheaus and Thornhill are seniors, and Burney, Hanback, Mack and Perkins are juniors.
The other two – Zandier and Alonso – were true freshmen last fall.
“It’s not easy to get in that top four, and then if you’re a young guy, you’ve been in the program a short amount of time compared to everybody else,” Griswold said. “Your training age, if you want to count that, is lower compared to [the older] guys.
“So it’s impressive for those guys to get in. Now, they have to earn it every year, too. You don’t just stay in it.”
Zandier and Alonso, Hanback said, are “two dudes that have been working their butts off since they got here and obviously since before they even got here. That’s just a testament to how strong they were coming in and how much they’ve improved since being here.”
Equally impressive is Perkins’ feat. It’s rare, Griswold said, for a quarterback to make the cut.
“If you take a normal pocket passer, they’re not going to be able to run as well as a [wideout or running back],” Griswold said, “and they’re based off of skill times, so it’s pretty difficult. We’ve been pretty fortunate to have a guy that can get in there.”
Griswold said there was strong competition in each position group. “[Wideout] Joe Reed was really close, but O and Perkins beat him out.”
Hanback said he was unaware of the Dirty Dozen tradition until Griswold announced this year’s recipients at a team meeting Monday.
“It’s an awesome honor,” Hanback said.
Perkins said: “You’re going to see guys next year and the following years realize that any time you can be part of this, it’s a special club. You’re going to see guys’ numbers jump significantly, and you’re going to see guys work harder, because being part of Dirty Dozen is an honor, and a lot of people want to get it.”