By Vincent Briedis
When Virginia senior defensive end Eli Hanback was in the sixth grade, he decided to start playing the euphonium, a smaller version of the tuba. He worked diligently over two years on the baritone horn and eventually found his way up to first chair.
“I have always appreciated music,” the Ashland, Va., native said. “When I was playing an instrument, I had the drive to practice and do well. It is amazing when everyone plays together in one harmonious sound and to be a part of that is a really cool feeling. I think the same thing translates to the football field. When everyone is doing their job the right way as one harmonious unit, you are successful. When you practice really hard and deliberately, whether it is music or football, the end result is quality work.”
Music has been a big part of Hanback’s life. One that has a foundation in his family.
“I have a few uncles and my dad play the guitar, so growing up I developed a deep appreciation for classic rock, rock ‘n’ roll and alternative rock,” Hanback said. “When I was playing in the band growing up, we were doing a lot of orchestra stuff, but we once played the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song, which was a highlight for me. But it was rock that grabbed my attention.”
When discussing the arts, music isn’t the only avenue Hanback has appreciation for.
“The older I have gotten, the more appreciation for the craft of acting I have.” Hanback said. “Method actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio, or Heath Ledger as the Joker, are examples of individuals owning their craft, falling into a character and becoming them. That is really hard to do and takes a certain kind of person to be able to do that, I acknowledge that and I think it’s a unique talent to be a very good actor and be able entertain others. It is not my forte to be someone that I am not, but I admire the work they do.”
Hanback, a Virginia graduate holding a degree in foreign affairs is currently working on a master’s degree in higher education with an athletic administration track. While method acting may intrigue Hanback, his future after football leads elsewhere.
“My desire is to work in the government, particularly in defense,” Hanback said. “That is what interests me most and it utilizes my degree.”
One constant in Hanback is his recognition and appreciation of blue-collar work ethic, which epitomizes what he brings to any endeavor he encounters. The fifth year is one of three Cavaliers currently on the roster (Bryce Hall and Chris Sharp) who have appeared in all 39 games of the Bronco Mendenhall era, and he leads that trio with 37 career starts.
“People say you don’t have to coach effort,” Hanback said. “If I am falling short with my strike or steps, at the end of the day I can give effort. That is what they preach here. I try to give all I can.”
A life-long Virginia fan, Hanback has played both defensive end and defensive tackle, filling in wherever needed as the Cavalier program has experienced a Renaissance of sorts in the recent years.
“This is my brotherhood, our team,” Hanback said. “This is my last year and to know that I am part of an ascending climb of greatness at Virginia is a tremendous honor. When I first came here it was pretty rough, but now we are getting better and it’s nice to know I am a part of that.”
Like any great musical arrangement, the crescendo is building on Hanback’s career at Virginia to a wonderful symphonic swell, a brass fanfare that opens up hopefully into a heroic and celebratory finale in 2019.