Belk Bowl Eve Notebook: Hall’s Future, Wild Rides and a Desire to Finish

UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall fields a question during Friday’s media availability.

CHARLOTTE — Virginia All-American cornerback Bryce Hall revealed during a Belk Bowl media event at the Charlotte Convention Center Friday morning that he has made a decision regarding his future as a Cavalier, but he’s keeping it to himself for now.

Hall said his mind is made up, and several of his teammates are already aware of his intentions, but he does not want to be a distraction to the program’s ultimate goal of knocking off South Carolina Saturday afternoon.

“The more I’ve had time to think about it, the more I’ve confirmed that that’s the way it’s going to be,” Hall explained.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from Harrisburg, Pa., is considered by many as a solid candidate to be taken early in the NFL Draft in the spring, but Wahoo Nation will have to wait a bit longer to find out whether he’ll enter his name or return to Charlottesville for one more season.

Vroom-Vroom

It’s been an exciting, action-packed week in the Queen City for the ‘Hoos, who got to experience everything from riding in a race car to enjoying a Belk shopping spree and participating in a food drive, among other bowl-week activities.

“Our team has handled this experience really well,” said Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall. “They are appreciative, they’ve been mature, and they’ve been respectful, and I think they really want to have a strong showing — not only for themselves but for all those that support the University of Virginia, and I’m proud of them for that point.”

Wednesday, the team enjoyed an outing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where they got to ride in race cars provided by NASCAR through Richard Petty’s Driving Experience.

“That was pretty wild,” said third-year defensive tackle Eli Hanback. “I think we got up to they said 160 miles an hour, which is the fastest I’ve ever been in a car, and they say that those banks are almost vertical when you go around those turns.

“For me, it gives me a whole new appreciation for NASCAR, because when you’re in that thing and you’re going around that turn, you can feel that car wanting to fight and just go right into that wall and it’s just gripping the road and keeping it straight. So just imagine 40 or 50 other cars around those guys racing. It was very fun and it definitely gave me a whole new appreciation for that sport.”

Not everyone was so excited initially.

“It was nerve-wracking for me,” said senior wideout Olamide Zaccheaus. “I didn’t want to do it at first, just because I didn’t like not being in control of the car, but I said you really only live once, so might as well just take advantage of this opportunity and I’m glad I did. It was really fun.”

Hall, who said all he really previously knew about NASCAR was from the Will Ferrell comedy Talladega Nights, added that teammate Tim Harris had a certain request for his driver.

“[Harris] told me when he got in the car he had to tell them to slow down a little bit because they were going so fast,” Hall laughed.

On Thursday, the team visited the Second Harvest Food Bank in the morning and then took part in the hour-long shopping spree at the South Park Mall.

“Just giving back to kids, that’s a big part of our program and just giving back to the community,” said senior running back Jordan Ellis, “and that’s something that kind of humbles you just to know that you’re giving food to kids that don’t have the necessary resources to get everyday food.”

In addition to the shopping spree, team members received watches, sweatsuits, shoes, and a $400 VISA gift card from Belk, the bowl sponsor.

“I’ve just been so thankful for how Belk has just treated us ever since we got here, they’ve lavished us with a lot of nice things, treated us,” said Hall. “So this whole experience has been nice and it’s been pretty awesome.”

Sending the seniors out in style

After tough back-to-back overtime ACC road losses to conclude the regular season, the Cavaliers are eager to get back on the field one more time to get that bad taste out of their mouths and send the seniors out on a high note.

Everyone agrees that the mindset is drastically different from a year ago when the ‘Hoos were embarrassed by Navy in the Military Bowl.

“We expect to win,” said Ellis. “We want to win this game, and that’s something that last year, we were just happy with being there.”

Added Zaccheaus: “A lot different approach than last year — way more intentional, way more urgent, way more efficient as far as scheduling and preparation, and we’re all just eager to get back on the field and play, especially for these seniors, our last game. We’re just excited for the opportunity.

“It would mean the world to all of us. It would just help the program move forward and take another step in the right direction as far as getting to where we want to be. … It all comes down to our execution versus theirs — that will determine the game.”

Ellis eyes 1,000

Ellis needs just 80 more yards to become just the third UVA back to rush for 1,000 yards or more in a single season since 2004, joining Alvin Pearman (1,037 yards in 2004) and Kevin Parks (1,031 yards in 2013).

“Definitely, that’s the goal. I want to see him get [1,000 yards],” UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins admitted. “Anything I can do to get him to 1,000 would be great, especially for his senior year, send him out right.”

If Ellis reaches the elusive plateau, he would become the 15th player in program history to do so, eight of those occurred between 1990-2004.

“It hasn’t set in yet,” Ellis said of suiting up for his last game as a Wahoo, “but I know that going through the game-day routine tomorrow it’ll probably set in, and definitely after the game it’ll set in and I’ll be able to reflect back on my career and just know I gave it everything that I’ve got.”

Bronco on Bentley

Mendenhall, who was sporting a bit of stubble at Friday’s media session, continued to have high praise for South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley.

“He’s an effective decision maker and I think he’s tough,” Mendenhall said of Bentley, who threw for a career-high 510 yards against Clemson last month, the most passing yards the Tigers have ever allowed in a game. “I think he’s competitive and I think he can make all the throws they ask him to make.”

Mendenhall noticed that Bentley came on strong as the season progressed, despite some bumps in the road along the way.

“Especially in the second half of the season, it seems like there was just momentum and a confidence growing week in and week out, and so I think he’s coming into this game playing his best football,” he said. “I think the tempo and the pace in which they play, and some of the unique things they do, adds an element that’s intended to have the defense be reactionary and on their heels — and then when you’re confident and assertive at that position, with good skill around you, then you’re able to score a lot of points, which is what they do.”

When asked if he was growing a “playoff beard,” Mendenhall chuckled.

“Either that or Santa Claus,” he smiled. “You can make your own choice there.”

A different kind of postseason for Perkins

Although this will be Perkins’ first true bowl-game experience on the field, he is familiar with postseason atmosphere. As a freshman at Arizona State, the Sun Devils participated in the Cactus Bowl against West Virginia at Chase Field in Phoenix in 2016. Fast forward to last year, when Perkins played for the National Junior College Championship with Arizona Western Community College.

“It was fun,” he recalled. “It was kind of like this, doing a dinner and a banquet, we had both teams on both sides. We were on the beach in Mississippi so that was fun, kind of getting into a bowl atmosphere for the junior-college level. That was a fun time.”

Perkins said he has been watching bowl games for years, noting one game in particular that really drew his interest as a kid.

“Growing up, the Fiesta Bowl was at Arizona State, was at ASU Stadium, and we used to go to the Fiesta Bowl all the time,” said Perkins. “That’s probably the most significant bowl that I’ve watched growing up until I got a little bit older, then it was the Rose Bowl. I’ll never forget the very first Rose Bowl I watched was with Reggie Bush and Vince Young, that memorable bowl, and ever since then, college football has been a really big part of my life and my family.”

One thing is for sure — Perkins’ family, who he said arrived in Charlotte on Thursday, wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“They’re going to find a way to make it to the game,” said Perkins. “If they can’t fly, my dad would literally — if he had to — he would drive here, like 20-30 hours just to get here.”

Short yardage

Turns out South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is not a fan of recruiting rankings, as he explained Friday: “I have never in my life, and nor will I ever, look at a recruiting ranking. I don’t care. I know a lot more than the people who are [putting the rankings together].” … It may not be a picture-perfect day weather-wise in Charlotte Saturday, but it will certainly be better than last year’s frigid contest in Annapolis. It has rained off and on the past two days, but tomorrow’s forecast looks a little better, with a game-time temperature in the low 60s and small chance of precipitation. … Perkins was asked if he looked up to another QB who makes his living at Bank of America Stadium on Sundays in the fall, Cam Newton, who took a similar path from the junior-college ranks to Division I: “I love watching Cam Newton and his game. Definitely similar. He’s bigger than me, bigger stature than me, but his game is definitely something that I idolize and kind of take, watch and kind of just try to resemble a little bit on the field.”



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