By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A second wave of recruits will join the program when the academic year ends, but most of the players who’ll suit up for the University of Virginia football team in the fall are already on Grounds.
Seventeen newcomers enrolled at UVA last month—10 freshmen and seven transfers—and they’ve been working out alongside the team’s returning players under the tutelage of head strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman and his staff.
“It really just gives us a head start, in my opinion, on becoming a team,” Virginia head coach Tony Elliott said Wednesday in the George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility.
The 17 midyear additions are by far the most in program history, and their early arrival “gives us an opportunity to spend more time with them and really get a head start on bonding,” Elliott said Wednesday.
The Cavaliers open spring practice on March 19. With multiple players recovering from offseason surgeries, UVA won’t be at full strength, but that will “create an opportunity for the new guys and the younger guys to get a lot of reps,” Elliott said. “So I’m excited about having the bulk of the team here.”
Five of the transfers—wide receivers Chris Tyree (Notre Dame) and Andre Greene Jr. (North Carolina), defensive backs Corey Thomas (Akron) and Kendren Smith (Penn), and offensive lineman Drake Metcalf (Central Florida)—joined Elliott in the indoor facility Wednesday for interviews with media members.
Tyree, Thomas and Smith each have one season of eligibility remaining. Like Metcalf, who has two seasons left, they came to UVA as graduate transfers. Greene has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Tyree and Greene are from the Richmond area, and both are thrilled to be back in Virginia.
“Just being an hour and some change away from home is something that I really appreciate so far,” said Tyree, who starred at Thomas Dale High School. “I’ve taken that drive probably way too many times since I’ve been here already.”
Greene has been reunited with many of his St. Christopher’s School classmates on Grounds, including Griff O’Ferrall, an All-America shortstop for the UVA baseball team.
“Just being a Virginia guy, being so close to home and seeing what Coach Elliott is doing with this program, I just wanted to be a part of it,” said Greene, whose quarterback in high school was O’Ferrall.
To be able to enroll at midyear was important for Thomas, whom the Hoos have slotted at safety.
“I just wanted to get up here, get acclimated, get used to the winter workouts,” Thomas said. “I know those are going to push me, challenge me, get me better. I get a chance to go through spring ball, get a chance to compete. I love competing. There’s a lot of talent on this offense, and I’m excited to compete with them.”
Greene said he was “so excited when I heard that I would get a chance to come in January, because you get to learn the playbook, you get to be in the winter workouts, and you get to become bigger, faster and stronger and get a chance to build relationships with some of the guys.”
For Smith, “that was a big thing in my transition, too,” he said. “It’s always good coming in spring to get acclimated, even to the campus at first, and just getting acclimated to the program, to teammates and to the coaches, because they know you going into the summer, so you’re already building that bond going into the fall where you’re really grinding and getting prepared for that season. Being familiar with the defenses, that’s a big thing too.”
Elliott said he’s had an opportunity to watch the newcomers work out, and he likes what he’s seen. Recruiting from the transfer portal, he noted, is like “speed dating. You’re watching everything on film, and it’s not a situation where you can have a live evaluation. So I was encouraged once I got back [off the road] and saw those guys move around, and then the [reports] that I’m hearing from the weight room and the sports med staff, just on their integration into the team, have been very, very positive. So I’m excited about some improvements from an athleticism standpoint, a length standpoint, and then also they’re already showing positive signs of leadership that they’re bringing with them.”
The Hoos are coming off a season in which they finished 3-9, and they were thin at many positions in 2023. Depth became an issue, Elliott said, “especially late in games, later in the season. It’s a big difference when you got a guy that’s playing his 75th snap versus [an opposing player who] might be on his 30th snap. You can condition them all you want, but there’s just a difference. So I think what this class does is just adds more depth and then competition. And then it also, I think, continues to add to the direction that we’re going from a recruiting standpoint philosophically.”
None of the Cavaliers’ offensive linemen exhausted his eligibility in 2023, and that group has returned mostly intact. The addition of Metcalf “just gives us additional depth,” said Elliott, who’s in his third year at Virginia.
Metcalf, who can play guard and center, began his college career at Stanford. His offensive line coach at Stanford was Terry Heffernan, who now holds that position at UVA. Metcalf is delighted to be working with Heffernan again, and he’s also excited about the academic opportunities he’ll have at Virginia.
“I just think the University of Virginia is such a historically significant university. Obviously, Thomas Jefferson started this school,” said Metcalf, who’s pursuing a master’s degree in the Frank Batten School of Public Policy and Leadership.
“I have a pretty big interest in American history and American politics, and I think that aspect of it really drove me academically to come here.”
The transfer class includes three wideouts—Tyree, Greene and Trell Harris (Kent State)—and all are well aware of what Malik Washington did at UVA in 2023. A graduate transfer from Northwestern who’s now training for the NFL Scouting Combine, Washington caught 110 passes for 1,426 yards—both single-season records at Virginia—and earned All-America honors last year.
The Cavaliers are “hopeful that we’re able to replace that production,” Ellliott said.
“Is it going to be one guy? We don’t know,” Elliott said. During the recruiting process, though, the coaching staff cited Washington as an example of what’s possible for receivers in Virginia’s offense.
Asked about the transfer wideouts, Elliott spoke first about Greene.
“When you look at at Dre, [he’s a] fast, big guy that gives us the ability to stretch the field vertically and then also will balance us on the outside,” Elliott said. “You look at Tyree, similar skill set to Malik, but he’s another guy that’s fast, world-class speed, and very versatile too … He started as a running back [at Notre Dame] and then transitioned to wideout, so he’ll be able to do a lot of different things within the system. And then Trell is an explosive guy that can play in the slot, but he’s got some size to him as well. He could easily transition outside, so I’m excited.
“The biggest thing I’m excited about is it just brings competition to the room. It’s going to force [UVA’s returning wideouts] to get better. So I’m excited about the whole room improving with the addition of those guys.”
In his 49 games with Notre Dame, Tyree totaled 3,284 all-purpose yards (1,161 rushing, 945 receiving, 119 on punt returns, 1,059 on kickoff returns). The Hoos will have a better idea of how best to use him once spring practice begins, but Tyree brings more than talent to the program.
“He’s very, very mature,” Elliott said. “He’s a very, very humble young man. He brings great leadership. He’s already been a gym rat. He’s around the building all the time, invested … I’m going to lean on him from a leadership standpoint. He’s a college graduate. He went through the process once and then the second time he knew exactly what he wanted to do, which tells me that he’s focused on a goal. He’s goal-oriented.”
Elliott said Tyree has the same qualities that have made Washington so successful. “So I’m going to lean on his leadership and the intangibles, a lot like [with] Malik. That’s what I think I appreciate the most about Malik. People focus on the 100-plus catches and the yards and all of that, but Malik was a leader from the day he got here … So I’m excited about that with Chris, because I see a lot of the same intangibles.”
Virginia’s returning players include quarterbacks Anthony Colandrea and Tony Muskett, each of whom started six games last season. Muskett is recovering from shoulder injury, and “he’s been attacking his rehab … so I’m anxious to see once we hit the grass just where he is,” Elliott said. “I know he won’t be able to have any contact at all this spring. But I’m excited to see how he’s progressing and hopeful that we’ll be able to get him in and let him throw during spring practice.”
Elliott said he wants to see Muskett continue to “progress from a leadership standpoint, just command of the offense. Same thing with Colandrea. You want to see Colandrea grow just in the complete quarterback aspect. I think we saw flashes of that [last season]. There were times where it was like, ‘Man, he’s commanding the offense, he’s managing the game,’ and then there were other times you saw him relying more on just athleticism and his talent. So I want to see him continue to grow in that area and then have those guys push each other and bring their strengths out, and then on the weaknesses have each other there to sharpen each other.”
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