Bronco announces nine players will return for extra year

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Bronco Mendenhall

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall holds his hand up during the first game of the season against Duke on Saturday at Scott Stadium (Photo: Erin Edgerton/ACC Media Services)

Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall announced Monday night that nine, fourth- and fifth-year players will return to the Cavaliers program in 2021.

Here are the players returning: defensive end Mandy Alonso, defensive end Adeeb Atariwa, free safety Joey Blount, outside linebacker Elliott Brown, cornerback De’Vante Cross, offensive guard Chris Glaser, cornerback Nick Grant, wide receiver R’Shaun Henry and offensive tackle Ryan Nelson.

Senior outside linebacker Charles Snowden, who suffered a broken ankle against Abilene Christian on Nov. 21, announced over the weekend that he will not return and prepare for next spring’s NFL Draft.

All nine players have completed their undergraduate degrees and should be a huge boost to the Cavaliers’ 2021 goals.

Alonso, Grant, Blount and Atariwa all started UVA’s final game of the season at Virginia Tech, while Nelson and Glaser started on the offensive side of the ball. Brown had been starting until Noah Taylor made it back for the season finale in Blacksburg. Henry made strides during the latter part of the season and a solid receiving threat.

Alonzo posted 26 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks in nine starts last season. He brings a wealth of experience back to the defense having 44 career games under his belt. He graduated this month with a degree in government.

Blount, who missed a major portion of the season with a hamstring injury, should play a large role in 2021.

“Due to my injury, I felt like I had more to give to this team and my brothers,” said Blount. “Also, I think that we have an opportunity to be one of the best teams in the ACC if we stay consistent and healthy.”

Virginia suffered heavy losses to injury this past season and managed to finish 5-5 with the Florida State game cancelled. Most of the injuries were on the defensive side of the ball.

The Atlanta native Blount started five games, the only ones he appeared in this pandemic-riddled season. He has 43 games played in his resume and owns 219 career tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and six interceptions. He graduated last summer in only three years with a degree in inter-American studies and will work on a master’s in education.

“I’m coming back because I didn’t want my senior year to end like last year,” said Nelson, who hails from Buena Par, Calif. “Also, I miss the football environment with all the fans, the noise and the atmosphere at the games. I’m hoping to have that next season.”

Nelson and Glaser have been stalwarts on Virginia’s offensive line the past couple of seasons and should make that unit even better in 2021 along with sophomore Joe Bissinger, junior Olusegun Oluwatimi, and junior right tackle Ryan Swoboda.

“I wanted to come back because I believe this team can go far next season,” Glaser said. “The past season was a good year for the O-line and I want to play one more year with them and for Brennan.”

Glaser was referring to returning junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong.

Nelson and his offensive line mates ranked No. 3 nationally among Power 5 schools in most rushing yards before contact per rush (2.70). Starting 10 games at left tackle, Nelson allowed only one sack in 2020 and had 20 pancake blocks. He redshirted the 2017 season and has started the last 37 straight games for the Wahoos. He graduated this month with a degree in history.

Meanwhile, Glaser started all 10 games this past season at right guard and was part of an O-Line that ranked No. 1 in the ACC and No. 12 in the nation in tackles for loss allowed (only 4.2). That same line finished No. 2 in the ACC in sacks allowed per game (2.0). Glaser has played in 42 career games with 32 starts, and graduated this month with a rare football degree in economics.

Henry, who transferred from Towson, started two games but played in nine games and posted seven catches for 206 yards. But get this. His first four receptions were all touchdowns. Henry is working on a masters in educational psychology at UVA after earning a degree in business management at St. Francis.

Grant, a native of Spotsylvania, started all 10 games at field corner, has appeared in 48 career games. He is working on a master’s in educational psychology. He has four career interceptions.

Atariwa, from Sterling, and a graduate transfer from JMU, played in all 10 UVA games last season, including six starts. He earned a degree in economics from JMU and is working on his master’s in education at UVA. Atariwa was a life saver for the Cavaliers, adding depth to the D-line, and playing a large role after the line lost several players to injury.

Brown, who graduated this month with a degree in foreign affairs, stepped into the outside linebacker spot vacated when Snowden suffered a broken ankle late in the season. He played in all 10 games and started the Virginia Tech game. He has played in 41 career games.

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