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Virginia’s Hollins: ‘We need football right now’

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia running back Mike Hollins has thought about what it will feel like to step onto the practice field to begin fall practice next week.

Emotions are mixed, of course. Hollins survived a shooting last November that killed teammates Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry, and he still grieves for them every day. Hollins, his teammates and the coaching staff want to keep the players’ legacies alive as the new season begins.

But Hollins said during a news conference Friday that he is excited for what this season holds, too, as camp opens Aug. 2.

“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. It will uplift the three we lost just by seeing them up on the big screen or just being in a football game, people will be remembering them. So I’m excited.”

Hollins returned to practice in the spring, four months after a gunshot wound to his abdomen that kept him hospitalized for a week. In the spring game in April, he scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in an end zone painted to memorialize Davis, Chandler and Perry and finished with 11 carries for 40 yards.

His performance throughout the spring gave Hollins a huge confidence boost that he said carried into summer workouts. Hollins said he feels 100 percent physically, and his weight is back up to 204 pounds after dropping to 185 last winter.

“I think it showed me that anything is possible, and I believe that the mind is very powerful as well,” Hollins said. “I had those days where I didn’t think I wanted to continue but moving throughout the spring every day, waking up and making a decision to show up for myself first, and then show up for my teammates, just showed me that I could be resilient under tough circumstances. That’s really what this spring was all about. Resilience.

“It could have been easy and everyone would have been OK with me not playing this season or sitting out or finding a way to just be a part of the team but not actually participate. But getting up and getting into the weight room when I didn’t feel like it or when I was sore or when I was 20 pounds lighter, just having that determination to get back get back to where I was, it really stood out from this spring.”

Hollins, Davis, Chandler and Perry were shot in November on a charter bus after returning to Charlottesville following a field trip to Washington, D.C. Another student, Marlee Morgan, was also shot but survived.

Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., a UVA student and former member of the football team who was on the trip, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Prosecutors have also charged him with two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges related to shooting Hollins and Morgan.

Hollins said he is doing better from a mental standpoint, but is still working through his emotions. He said he and his teammates have kept Davis, Chandler and Perry in their thoughts during their offseason work.

“When times get hard, everyone thinks of them and finds a way to push through,” Hollins said. “That’s where you get your motivation, your drive from. And if you don’t, then your mind is in the wrong place because that’s the perfect source. There is no better source to drive you forward than three people that you love so deeply who were taken. I have wristbands on. I keep them on. I never take them off. So they do stand as a source of strength for me and a place where I can always pull from.”

Coaches describe Hollins’ journey back as nothing short of remarkable. Running backs coach Keith Gaither said Hollins, Perris Jones and Kobe Pace will split reps to determine the rotation at the position heading into the season.

“Mike is special, and since he came back, he’s just been purpose-driven,” Gaither said. “He’s been on a mission in every aspect of his life. He’s been more focused. He’s a tremendous teammate. Not many young men can go through what Mike went through and come back and be better. In every aspect of his life, he’s better. He’s a much better football player. He’s a better young man because of what he went through, and it’s spreading throughout the team. I can’t say enough about how strong he is.”

Sourced from ESPN

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