Bronco has worn Abilene’s shoes, so he’s taking nothing for granted

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

“Abilene, Abilene
Prettiest town I’ve ever seen
Women there don’t treat you mean
In Abilene, my Abilene.”

Country singer George Hamilton IV popularized the song in 1963 when it rose to No. 15 on the charts. Since then, one of the Greatful Dead’s tunes “Loser,” was about the city, and two Abilene high school teams were featured in “Friday Night Lights,” the movie.

Most fans in Virginia aren’t familiar with the Texas city, which was established in 1881 by cattlemen as a stock shipping point on the Texas and Pacific Railway. Abilene’s largest employer is Dyess Air Force Base.

Abilene and Charlottesville have nothing in common until Saturday afternoon when the purple and white Wildcats of Abilene Christian come to town for a 4 p.m. battle against Bronco Mendenhall’s Cavaliers. If you have the means, the game will be televised by Fox Sports Southwest.

If you feel like you know little about Abilene, join the crowd. Even Mendenhall professed little knowledge of Abilene except what he had reviewed on game film.

“I have no connection with Abilene Christian or their program or their staff,” Mendenhall said during his weekly presser Monday.

Mendenhall, a western-bred guy, who has roamed much of that part of the country, has always known about Abilene Christian and some of its opponents, but isn’t overly familiar.

“Having been someone that coached at New Mexico, and traveling West Texas and Angelo State and Abilene Christian … I’m certainly aware of the program’s existence,” Mendenhall said. “But on the East Coast, there might be many that haven’t traveled the plains of West Texas, seeing the horses and the cows and the farms and all the things out there. But I have. In fact, I used to take my wife (Holly) in the car recruiting in the spring, driving from Albuquerque, all the way through those areas.

“Maybe for anyone that doesn’t love the Western life or being a cowboy, but for me it was basically blissful. And I couldn’t stay out there long enough. I just wish I was on horseback.”

The Wildcats are 1-4 this season and Virginia will be Abilene’s final opponent. A member of the Southland Conference, Abilene had to cancel its last home game against Arizona Christian because of Covid-19 issues by the visitors. It was the second game this season lost because of the virus.

Coach Adam Dorrell’s team lost its first three games of the season to UTEP (17-13), Army (55-23), SFA (35-32, overtime), before beating Mercer (20-17), then losing to Angelo State (34-21) in its last game.

If you think Bronco and the Cavaliers are taking this game for granted, think again. UVA needs this game to get back to .500, and a chance to finish strong down the home stretch.

“I think it’s a challenge that it presents is framed best by previous principles and how much weight is put on an opponent,” Mendenhall said. “My team gets tired of hearing weekly when I stand up and say ‘this is the next nameless and faceless opponent.’ I’m even talking about ACC teams. Meaning that the focus is us. That’s what I mean by that, not in relation to the opponent.

“Because that’s just the core philosophy that I have kind of extracted from John Wooden (the legendary UCLA basketball coach). Have the focus entirely on us. The context is the next game. There’s really very little attention that we put on the next opponent. The focus is only on us.”

Mendenhall is well aware of Abilene’s limitations but isn’t about to overlook the Wildcats because he’s walked in their shoes and he knows what happens when opponents are taken lightly.

“Having coached at the I-AA level and being a junior college coach and working my way through different leagues, I learned really early on the quality of coaching isn’t level specific,” Bronco said. “I’ve seen amazing high school coaches and I visited some professional facilities where I wasn’t that impressed. Same thing with the different levels of college football, so I think the coaching is very strong. I think the schemes are very sound.


“Normally, the biggest difference is the depth of players on the roster and the quality of players throughout the entire roster. Then you’ll see players at any given spot where you’d say, ‘man, that’s impressive,’ and this is no different. I’m impressed with the scheme, with the strategy and with the overall way the program is run.”

When UVA lost VMI as its lone nonconference game, the athletic program’s deputy athletics director, Jim Booz, worked hard in trying to find a team to replace the Keydets.

“We went through a number of [teams],” Mendenhall said. “I don’t even remember the different options we had. There weren’t many that could play or would play or had this date available to play. We were really looking for an opponent that would guarantee that they would be compliant and would test at the level that we needed to besides having the date. So, a lot of filters were in place and there weren’t many options available.”


  1. Doug Arcure says:

    Very cool for Coach Mendenhall to acknowledge my father in law George Hamilton IV. Good luck against ACU this weekend.

  2. BillNCville says:

    Hoping for no more injuries going into the home stretch.

  3. Frank says:

    Nice write up Hoots! What would have put it over the top, though, would be working in the lyrics to “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell. Yeah, I know it’s set in Kansas, but that’s a minor challenge for someone with your chops…

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