Early Monday morning, Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry, like so many others, woke up to the tragic news at the University of Virginia.
Three UVa football players – D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler – were murdered and Chris Jones, a former member of the program, was charged with the crime. Two others – Cavaliers running back Mike Hollins and one unidentified person – were wounded.
“On behalf of the Virginia Tech football program, our program, our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this unspeakable tragedy two nights ago,” Pry said in his opening statement during Tuesday’s press conference. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach [Tony] Elliott, his staff, the Virginia football team and the entire Charlottesville community during what I’m sure is a very difficult time.”
Rivals on the field, the Hokies and Cavaliers have played 103 times. The last break in the series was 1969. But like Virginia reached its arms out and hugged the Virginia Tech community after April 16, 2007, Pry and the Hokies did the same on Monday and Tuesday.
“This is a reminder to me and all of us that life is precious and a challenge to love each other more,” Pry said. “Football is something that’s important to all of us. It creates a brotherhood. We are family, and when one of us is hurting, we all hurt. I’ve hugged my own family, felt so close to our team through all of this these last 24 hours.
“UVa was here for us in 2007 and we are here for them now. … It’s bigger than football.”
UVA was here for us in 2007 & we are here for them now.
— Virginia Tech Football (@HokiesFB) November 15, 2022
Pry is a first-year head coach, much like UVa’s Elliott. Though they haven’t met on the field yet, the two exchanged texts on Monday morning. Pry wanted to let Elliott know he was thinking about him and the UVa program.
“I told him I loved him,” Pry said of his conversation with Elliott. “And ‘we’re here for you and your team.’ … ‘If there’s anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask.'”
The Hokies had not yet met as a team when Pry addressed the media at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, but it was the first topic of discussion in the afternoon. Pry echoed what women’s basketball coach Kenny Brooks said after Monday night’s women’s basketball game – it’s hard to be involved in a collegiate sport and not imagine what it would’ve been like had a similar incident happened to your team.
“It just opens your eyes to how precious things are,” Pry said. “When I think about – and I did mention to our staff and to the players I saw yesterday – if this was happening with our program, just where our hearts and minds would be. This is an awesome game. I love the game of football, but moreso I love what it brings out in people and what we’re teaching these guys. That’s really where it’s at to me: the brotherhood, the family, the being there for one another. My heart absolutely aches for Coach Elliott.”
When he was the defensive line coach at Memphis from 2007-09, Pry lost a player in the middle of the season. Walk-on defensive tackle Taylor Bradford, a Nashville native from Antioch High School, was murdered in September 2007 during a robbery.
“You hug’em,” Pry said of how he embraced his defensive line room with the Tigers. “You put your arms around them. A couple of the guys were very close to him. He kind of had a big personality. You just see how much it hurts them. … Number one, it’s challenging, and number two, you wonder if it’s the right thing.”
Memphis, who finished 7-6 that season, decided to play its football game vs. Marshall just two days later on Tuesday, Oct. 2. Pry said navigating the funeral service while preparing for a football game was challenging. The Tigers went on to win that contest in Bradford’s honor, 24-21.
“I don’t remember it being a joyous occasion,” Pry said. “It was still a somber attitude on our football team.”
Virginia athletic director Carla Williams and Elliott held a press conference at 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday. No decision has been made for the Cavaliers’ game vs. Coastal Carolina on Saturday. Tech and UVa are scheduled to meet on Nov. 26 in Lane Stadium. Williams said a decision for the Chanticleers’ contest will be made “soon” in conjunction with the staff and players.
Sometimes, sports can heal. Virginia Tech’s baseball game on April 20, 2007 vs. Miami was one of those moments. But across the Commonwealth, life is more important this week. That was the case with Tech women’s basketball vs. USC Upstate on Monday, and it’s theme ahead of the Hokies’ game at Liberty on Saturday.
“It’s been on everybody’s mind pretty heavy down that hallway,” Pry said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through, but it’s affected us, certainly. We’re preparing and doing the things we need to do, but there’s a need and a want to support and to know and to message.”
“I feel like it does change your perspective on life,” Hokies wide receiver Da’Wain Lofton said, “because it does make you more appreciative, especially with Thanksgiving coming up. It’s going to be hard for those families not to have those individuals there.”
Other Notes From Tuesday
During his press conference, Pry said Tech cornerback Dorian Strong is out for the season. The junior from Upper Marlboro, Md. injured his hand against West Virginia on Sept. 22 and has not played since. He has played in four games, so it’s he’ll redshirt.
“Injury [is] progressing, but after an appointment, just needs more time,” Pry said. “And we’re certainly going to do that.”
The status of running back Malachi Thomas is unchanged from last week. The sophomore from Hartwell, Ga. remains doubtful. He’s played in three games this season, so he can still redshirt.
Virginia Tech wide receiver and punt returner Tucker Holloway will not redshirt, according to Pry. The decision was made by Holloway and his parents. At the moment, however, Holloway is sick, and he did not practice on Tuesday, so the situation is still changing.
“There was a lot of value in having two games and No. 1, winning the games and No. 2, the experience that he would get,” Pry said. “So he’s got to get well. If he’s healthy and well and able to play in this one, then certainly we’re going to move forward with what he and his family and the staff agree was in his best interest and our best interest. But if for some reason he’s not able to play in this one, then we’ll have another decision on our hands.”
John Love will kick for the Hokies at Liberty. After Will Ross played in the first nine games and made eight of his 10 field goal attempts and 20 of his 22 extra points, Tech benched him in favor of Love at Duke. Pry was unhappy with the missed extra points and wanted to give the true freshman a shot at the job.
Love missed his lone attempt from 50 yards at Duke on Saturday in his first collegiate appearance.
“We are going to give John another opportunity this week,” Pry said. “Feel like he deserves that. And then we’ll reevaluate it after the Liberty game. Again, Will’s done some good things this year, they had a heck of a battle in preseason camp, and we felt like it was fair to kind of open it up and give John an opportunity with what happened, particularly on the PATs.
“[It’s] about evaluating some of the freshmen in our program and what we have in them.”