By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — On his team’s first play from scrimmage in Virginia’s Blue-White spring game Saturday at Scott Stadium, quarterback Tony Muskett lofted a flawless pass to wide receiver JR Wilson, who’d sprinted past his defender along the left sideline.

It would have been an 80-yard touchdown play, except for one thing. The ball slipped out of Wilson’s hand and hit the turf.

“I think that’s the first pass he’s dropped all spring,” Muskett said.

“Just first-game jitters,” Wilson said. “Just too excited. But stuff happens, and I came back and made a play to make up for it.”

On the White team’s next possession, Muskett went back to Wilson, and this time they connected. Wilson leaped to snare Muskett’s pass at the Blue 40, eluded a defender and then raced down the left sideline to complete a 56-yard scoring play.

“Just great to see him respond,” head coach Tony Elliott said.


A 6-foot-4, 219-pound rising junior, Wilson has earned rave reviews from teammates and coaches this spring, but he’s coming off an underwhelming 2023 season, and his drop raised questions about whether he could replicate his practice performances with fans in the stands. He answered them as the game went on Saturday.

“When you first mess up, it kind of haunts you, and you kind of just keep thinking about it,” Wilson said. “But I’ve got that next-play mentality.”

He finished with three catches for 79 yards and one TD to help the White team defeat the Blue squad 17-10 on a picturesque spring afternoon. Wilson could have had more, Muskett reminded No. 17 on the sideline.

“After he had the touchdown, I said, ‘Dang, you could have two touchdowns, 150 yards right now,’ ” Muskett recalled, smiling. “But I have so much faith in him and all the wideouts, so there was no doubt I was coming back to him.”

Wilson, who’s from Brooklyn, N.Y., played in seven games as a true freshman in 2022, the Wahoos’ first season under Elliott, and started the final two. After catching eight passes that year, Wilson was expected to take on a bigger role in the offense in 2023. Inconsistency plagued him, however, and he caught only 10 passes in 12 games last season.

He went into the offseason determined to break through in 2024, and he’s been committed and focused since returning to Grounds in January.

“I like this 2024 JR Wilson,” offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said after practice Thursday.

“He’s had a great spring,” Elliott said Saturday. “He’s a guy that we saw flashes [from] as soon as we got here, and then it’s just taken a little time to kind of figure things out, but now he’s really comfortable in the system. He sees an opportunity to have a big role, and I’m really, really pleased and proud of the spring that he’s had.”

Wide receivers coach Adam Mims might have the Cavaliers’ deepest position group. To a core of returning wideouts, including Wilson, Malachi Fields, Suderian Harrison, Ethan Davies and Jaden Gibson, Virginia added three transfers (Chris Tyree, Andre Greene Jr. and Trell Harris) and a true freshman (Kam Courtney) in January.

Fields didn’t play much Saturday, but he didn’t need to. He’s a proven commodity, and he’s coming off a season in which he had 58 receptions for 811 yards and five touchdowns.

JR Wilson (17)

Tyree came to UVA from Notre Dame, Greene from North Carolina, and Harris from Kent State. Tyree was among the players who missed the Blue-White game with injuries, but Greene caught five passes for 65 yards, and Harris and Courtney had one reception apiece. Harris had four catches for 49 yards, as well as a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Also noteworthy was the play of Claiborne Richards, a sophomore walk-on from Nashville, Tenn. He caught six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Richmond teamed with Muskett on a pass play that covered 73 yards.

“Claiborne’s a guy that’s constantly showing up,” Elliott said. “From the day he got here, he was a guy [about whom coaches said], ‘Man, he’s got something to him.’ … He’s a guy that’s caught our attention early on in his in his career just with the skill set that he brings the way that he prepares, and just his football IQ.”


Malik Washington, who’s now preparing for the NFL draft, caught 110 yards for 1,426 yards and nine touchdowns for the Hoos last season. The Cavaliers may not have a receiver who matches those record-setting numbers this year, but Mims figures to have plenty of options.

“There’s competition,” Kitchings said, “and that’s how we feel like we’re going to continue to grow, just because of his daily competition at each position room.”

There’s also competition at quarterback, where Muskett and Anthony Colandrea each started six games for Virginia last season. They split the first-team reps this spring, and their battle for the starting job will resume when training camp begins in August.

Both shined in the first half Saturday before sitting out the rest of the game. Muskett completed 10 of 18 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, and Colandrea was 15-for-16 passing for 102 yards. Neither turned the ball over.

“I thought both guys did a really good job with that,” Kitchings said, “because that’s something we’ve been harping on: taking care of the football, eliminating turnovers, eliminating bad decisions, bad choices.”

Talented wideouts make a quarterback’s job easier, and, despite losing Washington, UVA looks strong at that position.

“Credit to Coach Mims and the offensive staff for bringing in guys in the portal that are about the right stuff,” Muskett said. “I know Chris [Tyree] didn’t go today, but those three guys came in and worked [this spring]. And you saw [Greene] have a day today. That kid’s a freak. He can make play you ask him to in that chart. Trell didn’t get a lot of touches, but Trell can go, so obviously you’ll see them in the fall when Chris Tyrese is back.

“They’re all some big playmakers, so having that depth and that competition, it breeds greatness, because a lot of the best teams in the country have [second-, third- and fourth-teamers] that can go out and play like other teams’ [starters]. So that’s what we’re trying to develop. Keep on getting depth and keep on getting guys that can push each other.”

The competition is pushing Wilson. He has Fields, a rising senior who grew up in Charlottesville, as a mentor, and Wilson is reaping the rewards of his hard work.

“I feel like today solidified what I can do going on to the fall,” Wilson said.

His mental approach to the game is better than it was in 2023, when self-doubt held him back, Wilson said, and “I feel like this year just my confidence is getting better, just my feel for the game, everything.”

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