Hollins is playing football this season for God, family and the city of Charlottesville

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Image: UVA Athletics

With training camp only days away, Virginia running back Mike Hollins said Friday that he’s at 100 percent physically, back to his playing weight of 205, and excited about camp and the upcoming season.

Hollins gained national notoriety last season during the tragic slaying of three of his teammates — Lavel Davis, D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler — with Hollins surviving gunshot wounds during the event. Once he had the stitches and bandages removed from his body in recovery, Hollins had already decided he was going to return to the football team.

“I just feel like enough was already taken from me, so I just wouldn’t let football be taken from me as well,” Hollins said during a UVA football media session at the George Welsh Indoor Football Facility.

The Baton Rouge, La., native acknowledged that most observers didn’t expect him to return to football and certainly would have understood if he had chosen not to come back. Instead, he was driven to finish what he started and play in honor of his fallen teammates, particularly Perry, who had grown to become his best friend.

Hollins, who already holds two degrees from Virginia and is now working on his Masters, has a lot to play for in 2023.

“Other than God and myself and my family, the entire community of Charlottesville,” Hollins said when he was asked who he is playing for this fall. “I feel like we’ve all been through something very traumatic and I made it out the other end.

“People are inevitably looking at me just to see how I turn out. I will say I’m doing better … not great yet, but better with the help of the Lord.”

Obviously there is a ton of motivation for him after the tragedy, but there’s more to his survival. Hollins realizes there’s more to life than football and should this be the end of his gridiron career, he has an entire life ahead of him, pointing out that his success in the classroom at UVA has prepared him well.

Virginia coaches have always emphasized to prospects in all sports that they’re not making just a four-year decision, but rather a 40-year decision because there’s not a lucrative professional athletic career waiting out there but for a select few. A UVA diploma opens a lot of doors.

“It’s just now I’m looking at football as yes, it is my dream, but how many other ways can I use it to better myself off the field,” Hollins said. “Because on the field comes easy to everyone who’s made it to a Division I college. It’s how you got here.

“I think what separates is how you can better yourself, not only on the field, but off the field as well, because you only have, what, 48 games in your career and practices every few months.

“Those times off the field outnumber the times you actually get to have a ball in your hands. So this complete change of perspective for this season, just wondering how I can better build deeper connections with my teammates and my professors and the people who are here to support me. How can I show gratitude and appreciation? All of that has been keeping me motivated every day.”

Hollins said the memories of the three teammates inspire him and the Virginia football program every day. When things get hard, everybody thinks of them, a common thread throughout Wahoo football.

While the shootings occurred in mid-November and his wounds have healed, the mental scars linger, something he acknowledged will be there every day for the rest of his life, something he will have to learn to live with. He also will likely be a recognizeable figure because not only did he survive the attack, but actually escaped and then turned and ran back onto the bus where the shootings took place. That’s when he was shot, trying to help others.

In most people’s view, that makes Hollins a hero, a tag he would rather not carry.

“I definitely won’t ever return to my old self,” Hollins said. “I’ll always be carrying something with me. It’s just learning how to carry it in a way that best fits you and your circumstances.

“You’ll never find the proper way to carry such a traumatic experience. It will always weigh on you. You will always wake up and, well, there will never be a day where you won’t remember it or feel something missing from your heart. So just learning to accept that will be a lifelong journey.”

He said he realizes that in rhe eyes of many that he is an inspiration, a hero, and acknowledges that is something he never asked for. He just wants to get into training camp and compete for playing time in a very experienced and deep running backs room.

“I’m excited for what this season holds, not just for this team, but for the city, the university, because we need football right now,” Hollins said. “It does something to the atmosphere, just the whole camaraderie of the university.”