by Hannah Gross
Jake Fieler is that guy. A redshirt senior who starts at right guard for the Wahoos, Fieler is undeniably a leader for Virginia this season.
It’s a role that he has been growing into since his first campaign here in Charlottesville. Following his redshirt season, Fieler suffered a brutal ankle injury in preseason camp that required surgery and kept him off the field yet another year.
“Dealing with injuries has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced,” Fieler said, “I have had a couple (of injuries) that were very hard to get through. You build your body up thinking that you are going to play and then it takes at least a year to get back to where you were before and it can be really frustrating.”
It took both resilience and patience for Fieler to get his first career start at left guard in the 2016 home opener against Richmond. In the waiting, Fieler had a family of athletes to lean on.
“My parents went to Ohio University and played sports and both of my older siblings played at the collegiate level,” Fieler said.
A native of Parkersburg, W. Va., Fieler and his siblings were always playing sports.
“There was always that motivation growing up,” Fieler said. “I was as competitive with them as I could be, my brother is three years older than me, so I rarely beat him at anything. We were competitive and supportive all at the same time.”
Fieler’s dedication to football also goes back to family.
“My dad is always watching football, he loves football, and he talks about football season being the best time of the year,” Fieler said. “Growing up watching games with him is where my love of the game started.
“My dad is a big motivator. He has always been blunt about constructive feedback, but I wouldn’t change that. It has made me who I am as a player. He would also be the first person to come tell me I had a great game.”
At Virginia this season, Jake is a big motivator for the younger players.
“It’s definitely been different,” Fieler said. “While I had a leadership role last year, I had other guys with me. Coming into this season, I was the only fifth-year senior on the line, until we got transfer, Marcus Applegate, who has really helped with that as well.
“It can feel like a lot of pressure to make sure everything is going well. It’s a position I want and enjoy, but it is a lot of responsibility. Leading by example is what I am striving to do this year, knowing that the younger guys are counting on me is a big motivation.”
As a leader, Fieler puts his individual accomplishments secondary to the team.
“Most of my goals are team goals for this season,” Fieler said. “We want to improve on last year, go to a bowl game and win. However, I think we have even more potential than that. I want us to win every game. I absolutely think we are on track for team goals, we had probably the best first game I have had in my time here. It feels different because the pieces are in place now, coach (Bronco) Mendenhall has been moving the pieces around and now it is all finally sliding into place. The hard work has always been there but now everything is becoming aligned.”
Fieler spends plenty of time with the teammates he leads off the field.
“Anytime I’m not at practice, I’m with at least two or three teammates,” Fieler said. “Marcus Applegate and I are right sides that play beside each other and we like to go fishing together. I also live with C.J. Stalker and Eli Hanback, and any given day you can find other lineman hanging at our place, along with various other positions scrambled in.”
When it comes to making decisions about drills in practice, the huddle looks to Fieler.
“It requires a lot of decision making,” Fieler said. “I tend to have the final say, but I don’t like using that phrase, because we always listen to what everyone has to say.”
As a senior, Fieler has many more decisions to make in the near future.
“The biggest goal would be to keep playing football,” Fieler said. “I have no idea what I will be doing 10 years down the road, I’m more of a take it one day at a time kind of guy. My undergraduate degree was in foreign affairs but I’m now getting my master’s from the Curry School of Education in Higher Education. I will probably take the athletics route, maybe become an athletic director or something similar in the future.”
While Fieler’s future may hold many unknowns, his proven capabilities as a resilient player and a humble leader will only take him to greater things.