By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The list of University of Virginia football players who sat out the Blue-White spring game because of injuries was a lengthy one and included offensive linemen Ty Furnish, Brian Stevens, McKale Boley, Drake Metcalf, Noah Josey and Jimmy Christ, tailbacks Xavier Brown and Jack Griese, tight end Sage Ennis, wide receivers Chris Tyree and Jaden Gibson, defensive end Ben Smiley III, defensive tackle Michael Diatta, linebacker James Jackson, and cornerbacks Kendren Smith, Malcom Greene, Elijah Gaines, Micah Gaffney and Dre Walker.

Of the players who were unavailable Saturday at Scott Stadium, only Metcalf is unlikely to be cleared by the start of training camp in August, head coach Tony Elliott said. A graduate transfer from Central Florida, Mecalf suffered an Achilles tendon injury this spring, but he’s determined to play again this year.

“Drake’s motivated,” Elliott said, “and he’s the kind of guy that that whatever [timetable] you give him, he’s gonna work extremely hard to try and come in ahead of that. His conversation is, ‘Coach, I will be back ready.’ And I don’t know if it’ll be quite at the start of fall camp or the start of September, but I anticipate that during the season we’ll get him back at some point.”

HOLES TO FILL: The Cavaliers’ top two tight ends in 2022 and ‘23—Sackett Wood Jr. and Grant Misch—combined for 12 catches last season. Offensive coordinator Des Kitchings, who also oversees Virginia’s tight ends, would like to get more production from that position, and he’s excited about what Sage Ennis and Tyler Neville might be able to contribute in the fall.

Neither, however, participated this spring. Ennis, a transfer from Clemson, is recovering from a torn ACL, and Neville is finishing up his degree at Harvard. And that meant more snaps for the Wahoos’ other tight ends this spring: Karson Gary, TeKai Kirby, Henry Duke, Hayden Rollison and Dakota Twitty.

“I challenged all those guys from the start,” Kitchings said. “I said, ‘All right, here we go. You’ve got 15 opportunities to really show what you can bring.’ ”

Gay in particular “took a big step” this spring, Kitchings said. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound rising junior produced one of the highlights of the Blue-White game, making a difficult catch of a Tony Muskett pass for a 30-yard completion.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Twitty missed the 2022 season, his first at UVA, with an injury. He appeared in seven games last season and caught one pass for seven yards. Twitty moved to tight end this spring partly because the Hoos were “banged up some at the tight end room,” Kitchings said, “and one day we were down to one guy and asked him if he would come and try it and he did it. He’s been awesome. We’ll see where it moves from here, but at least he’s gotten that experience [and] we know he’s capable of doing that.”

Twitty caught one pass in the spring game, for a 6-yard gain.

ON THE RISE: In the fall, Virginia expects to have a full complement of tailbacks, with Kobe Pace, Noah Vaughn, Xavier Brown, Donte Hawthorne and Jack Griese. But only Pace and Vaughn were available for every practice this spring, and each impressed.

UVA fans are familiar with Pace, who Kitchings said will “kind of be the bell cow” in the backfield this fall. Pace was Virginia’s second-leading rusher last season, carrying 125 times for 382 yards and one touchdown, and he caught 19 passes for 176 yards and three TDs.

Vaughn has no such college résumé. In the fall of 2022, he broke his ankle late in his senior season at Maryville High School in Tennessee. The injury didn’t heal properly, and he had another operation after enrolling at UVA last summer.  That caused him to miss last season, but, healthy again, Vaughn “had a hell of a spring,” Kitchings said.

In the Blue-White game, the 5-foot-8, 188-pound Vaughn led all rushers with 50 yards on 11 carries.

“He breaks tackles,” Kitchings said, “and he’s got a little bit of quickness to be able to slither in there. But the kid’s really tough. You look at his stature. There’s gotta be something that separates him from everybody else and that’s what it is: his competitive nature and his toughness.”

Vaughn said: “I’m a smaller back, I’ve got to use my eyes and speed a lot. So I use my eyes to see the hole and then I use my speed to hit it.”

He’s become more consistent this spring, Vaughn said. “My best ability is my availability, and last year I wasn’t available, so I wasn’t able to use my best ability. I feel like I was able to grow [this spring] just by not being injured through practice, being able to come out here every day and work behind the O-line and just stay consistent with my game.”

Tony Muskett (11)

NEXT GENERATION: The defensive line is Virginia’s most experienced position group, with college graduates Kam Butler, Jahmeer Carter, Chico Bennett Jr., Ben Smiley III among the returning players. But three linemen who played as true freshmen last season—tackles Jason Hammond and Anthony Britton and end Mekhi Buchanan—impressed this spring and figure to play important roles in the fall.

“As a defensive staff, we talk about building competitive depth,” defensive coordinator John Rudzinski said. “As much as we can, we’d love to play a ton of guys on defense.”

Asked Saturday about Buchanan, Bennett called him “explosive.” Rudzinski offered a similar assessment of the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Buchanan, who has changed his jersey number from 38 to 11.

“Super explosive,” Rudzinski said, “one of those guys that if he was a basketball player, he’d be the 360 [degree] dunker. He’s a guy that has super high upside. Great learner, super athletic and, frankly, just a great young man to work with.”

SO FAR, SO GOOD: Since of the end of last season, the Cavaliers have added 11 transfers: quarterback Gavin Frakes (New Mexico State), offensive lineman Drake Metcalf (UCF), tight ends Sage Ennis (Clemson) and Tyler Neville (Harvard), wideouts Chris Tyree (Notre Dame), Andre Greene Jr. (North Carolina) and Trell Harris (Kent State), and defensive backs Corey Thomas Jr. (Akron), Kendren Smith (Penn), Jam Jackson (Robert Morris) and Kempton Shine (Eastern Michigan).

Of those 11, only Neville has yet to enroll at Virginia, and the other 10 have made seamless transitions, Elliott said.

“You always worry about that when you bring guys from different locker rooms. You don’t know what culture they’re coming from,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of really just fitting in. I think some of it has to do with [the fact that] several of those guys are coming from smaller programs, so they have a great appreciation … [and] they’re also humbling the guys that we have, telling them like, ‘Hey, y’all need to be grateful for what you do have, because coming from other places, smaller schools, we didn’t have the things that we have [at Virginia].

“So it’s been really good to see them blend in in the locker room. Then you’ve got Sage coming from a program that’s been near the top and he’s experienced some success at the championship level, so you’re getting a lot of different perspectives. But the guys have done an unbelievable job of taking all of that and kind of channeling it in the right direction as we build the team.”

Of the newcomers, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Thomas, who’s versatile enough to play linebacker as well as safety, has probably generated the most buzz inside the football offices at the McCue Center.

“He’s a giant man that can make a ton of plays,” Rudzinski said.

“I think you look at him physically and you’re like, ‘Wow, man, he looks the part,’ ” Elliott said. “He’s a football player. He’s got a high IQ, very versatile.”

Anthony Colandrea

ROSTER MANAGEMENT: The transfer portal is open, and Virginia could use reinforcements at several positions, Elliott said Saturday, but “right now we don’t have [scholarships] available unless we get into meetings this week with guys on the roster and something changes. So I don’t know what this next week is going to look like. I want to say we’re gonna stay intact. I haven’t heard any rumblings yet, but we’ve also been laser-focused on competing and getting through the [Blue-White] game, and then we’ll start having conversations as we kind of debrief and evaluate and start to say, ‘OK, this is kind of where we’re going to start going into the offseason.’ ”

Virginia opens the season, its third under Elliott, Aug. 31 against Richmond at Scott Stadium.

DYNAMIC DUO: Elliott came out of the spring game feeling positive about the Cavaliers’ options at quarterback. Tony Muskett and Anthony Colandrea started six games apiece last season, and each is back this year.

Muskett, who transferred from Monmouth to UVA in January 2023, hurt his non-throwing shoulder in last year’s opener against Tennessee but put off surgery until after the season. It was unclear if he’d be available for spring ball, but Muskett rehabbed diligently and was able to participate in all 15 practices.

“I’m so proud of him,” Elliott said. “He’s a guy that came in here and transferred in and had big expectations for the season, and 40 plays into the year, he’s out. And then he battles back and chose not to have surgery during the season. He battled and won games for us, gave us opportunities in other games, and then he’s in a battle [with Colandrea for the starting job].

“He’s got a very young, talented quarterback in the room with him, and you know what? He stayed true to who he was and then didn’t let the outside noise get to him and just focused on what he could control. He understands that he needs Colandrea, and Colandrea is now starting to understand that he needs Tony, because competition brings the best out of both of those [two].”

In the Blue-White game, Muskett completed 10 of 18 passes for 200 yards and two TDs. Colandrea was 15-for-16 passing, for 102 yards.

Muskett threw TD passes of 56 and 73 yards, respectively, to wideouts Claiborne Richards and JR Wilson.

“The O-line, the backs and the receivers, they all just put me in a position where I’ve got all the time in the world in the pocket,” Muskett said. “Our receivers are getting open, our backs are running hard, so we’re not in too many third-and-longs. So I just did my job. We’ve got a lot of talented guys this year. All I need to do is just do my job and everything else will work out from there.”

Colandrea’s playmaking ability has been apparent since he arrived at UVA last year, but on Saturday, Elliott said, “I also saw some things that I was looking for, him trying to have the right body language to challenge his teammates to lead in the right way. So I’ve been pleased with both of their growth over the spring, and so we’ve got healthy competition and we know we can win with either one of them.”

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