With most of ’24 team on campus, Elliott excited about ‘head start’

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Tony Elliott’s plan was to add another cornerback to the program for the second National Signing Day on Wednesday, but he put those plans on hold when he simply couldn’t find the right fit for Virginia’s program.

Instead, he will keep looking for a potential addition when the second NCAA transfer-portal window opens up in April.

Still, Elliott was delighted that almost his entire 2024 football team is in Charlottesville, involved in the winter-workout program and ready for next month’s opening of spring practice.

Of the 11 players gained in the first window of the transfer portal, 10 are already enrolled in UVA classes and getting work in the program.

“I think it gives us an opportunity to spend more time with them and really get a head start on bonding,” Elliott said Wednesday. “It allows you to start gelling as a team as we get into spring ball.”

Virginia will be missing a multitude of players for the spring workouts due to some offseason surgery, such as quarterback Tony Muskett, who missed the latter part of the season with a shoulder injury and will not be allowed to have any contact in the spring.

However, having the transfers onboard — and some of the younger players in the program — will give them an opportunity to develop and blend in during the 15 practices spread out throughout the spring.

“I’m excited about having the bulk of the team here,” Elliott said. “It really just gives us a head start, in my opinion, on becoming a team.”

Among those transfers already working out in the program are two potentially dynamic pass receivers, Notre Dame transfer Chris Tyree and North Carolina transfer Andre Greene, both originally from the state of Virginia.

Both Tyree and Greene said Wednesday that they are already getting in catches with Virginia quarterbacks and developing that chemistry Elliott mentioned (more will follow on those receivers in this week’s reports).

Elliott has spent lots of time on the recruiting trail the past several weeks working on future classes, but is excited to be back and observing the transfers.

“The transfer portal is really speed dating,” the coach said. “You’re watching everything on film. It’s not a situation where you can have a live evaluation, so I was encouraged once I got back and saw those guys move around.

“And the returns I’m hearing from the weight room and the sports medicine staff on their integration into the team has been very positive. I’m excited about some improvements from an athleticism standpoint, and they’re already showing positive sides of leadership that they’re bringing.”

A few of the transfers, such as Greene and New Mexico State quarterback Gavin Frakes, among others, had not joined the program at the time of the first National Signing Day back in December. Virginia needed to add another scholarship quarterback to the program, especially with Muskett’s inability to have contact during spring drills.

Co-starter Anthony Colandrea, who was forced to burn his redshirt last season when Muskett was injured for the second time during the campaign, did not have a backup scholarship quarterback.

“The initial plan was to sign a high school (Class of 2024) quarterback,” Elliott explained. “We weren’t able to find the right guy, and then [Frakes] entered into the portal and he was a fit academically, was a fit socially, a fit athletically.

“He’s got three years left, so he was a guy that would equate to like signing a high school kid, thinking about the big picture. I’m excited about what he brings to the table and I feel good about the competition [in the quarterback room].”

Elliott reported that Muskett has been pushing hard to get back in terms of attacking his rehab, has been working in the weight room, running with the team, but they’ve had to ask him to step on the brakes and not rush himself back too soon.

The biggest need in the program at this point is the cornerback spot, but that will have to wait a few weeks when Elliott sees what shakes out from the second transfer-portal window.

“We were looking for a developmental high school guy that we thought we could bring in and we just didn’t find that guy,” Elliott said. “I didn’t want to invest a scholarship in a guy that we didn’t see enough.

“That position, right there, right now, is the hardest to find if you track the transfer portal. Those guys go like hotcakes, man. Everybody’s trying to find corners, so that’s the one area that I’ll be looking to see if there is a guy out there that can come in and help us.”