“So those first couple workouts, they were hard, very hard,” Glaser said Monday during a Zoom call with the media. “And I think that’s where we really bonded and jelled. Really when we first got here, it was, ‘What’s the best way we can help the team out?’ ”
The Cavaliers’ nine victories last year were the most since 2007, and the senior class’s streak of three straight bowl berths, including a triumph in the 2018 Belk Bowl, represents the longest such run since Virginia went to four in a row from 2002 through ’05.
The senior class won 23 games from 2017 through last season, marking the most victories over three years since the Cavaliers won 25 games from 2002 through ’04.
“They are the foundational class which has allowed the program to improve every single year and battle, quite frankly, without interruption this year,” Mendenhall said. “I’m so thankful that they’ve allowed me to coach them. I’m so thankful that they trusted me and chose U-Va.”
Among the players who made an impact on a unit other than special teams that year was linebacker Charles Snowden. The St. Albans graduate and Sliver Spring resident was one of 17 non-redshirt freshmen to play in 2017, collecting a sack in his debut in the fourth game of the season for his first college tackle.
Snowden since has become one of the most dynamic and respected players on the team, voted one of four team captains this year. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound NFL prospect, however, won’t be playing in Saturday’s final home game against Boston College (6-4, 5-4) because of a fractured right ankle.
This year’s senior class has rallied around Snowden, especially fellow senior linebackers Zane Zandier, Matt Gahm and Elliott Brown, since the injury Nov. 21 against Abilene Christian left the Cavaliers’ leader in sacks (six) on crutches and requiring surgery that took place two weeks ago.
“Charles, obviously he’s our leader,” said senior wide receiver Terrell Jana, another captain. “Man, he’s connected with everybody on the team. I venture to say anybody on the team would say Charles is their best friend or one of their very best friends. You wish injury upon nobody, especially someone who’s a leader on our team.”
Gahm and Brown are both in line to play extensively with Snowden on the mend. Gahm was a starter coming out of training camp last season, but a knee injury in the opener kept him limited the rest of the year. It also allowed Noah Taylor to shine in his place and secure the starting job this season on the strong side.
No fans will be allowed inside Scott Stadium, as has been routine during the coronavirus pandemic, but players’ family members will be permitted, with virtually all parents of seniors expected to participate in a pregame ceremony.
A victory over the Eagles also would push Virginia above .500 for the first time since it won its season opener.
“Just really considering and trying to ponder the best ways to make sure they have a memorable experience,” Mendenhall said of his seniors. “And the best way to do that is to have them well prepared so they can have success, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Zandier, meanwhile, has assumed plenty of the leadership responsibilities on defense with not only Snowden unavailable but also Richard Burney. The sixth-year starting defensive end and captain is out for the season with what Mendenhall has termed a “health injury.”
Zandier leads the Cavaliers, who have won three consecutive games, in quarterback hurries (seven) and tackles for loss (seven). The rugged inside linebacker ranks second in tackles (67) and is tied for third in sacks (two and a half).
“I think all of us seniors are very excited for this game, and hopefully we’ll kind of be able to continue on with this week with some sort of normalcy,” Zandier said. “Yeah, it’s definitely going to be different. It’s not going to be your every year senior game, but at the same time I think it means a lot to us.”