CHARLOTTESVILLE — A topic that didn’t command much attention during Virginia’s breakout football season in 2018 was a change in strength coaches.
Frank Wintrich was the first person to hold that position following Bronco Mendenhall’s arrival as head coach prior to the 2016 season and was held in such high regard that new UCLA coach Chip Kelly plucked him off the UVa staff.
Prior to taking the UCLA job, Kelly, formerly the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, had stopped by a UVa practice in the spring of 2017. Apparently, he liked what he saw out of Wintrich, who was snapped up by the following January.
It just so happened that Arizona State, where Shawn Griswold had served as strength coach under Todd Graham for five years, also had hired a new head coach, Herm Edwards.
Within days, UVa had hired Griswold, who didn’t have the same Brigham Young background as Mendenhall and many of his UVa coaches. But they knew of him from his days as a player and coach at Utah State.
When Virginia had a media opportunity last week, it was Griswold who put the players through drills and met with the media, while Mendenhall and the other coaches were taking one of their last off days of the summer.
“It’s been a great summer,” said Griswold at the end of the final conditioning session. “ I know that people say all the time, ‘It’s just coachspeak,’ but there’s something unique about this place.
“It’s not just UVa. It’s coach Mendenhall and the program that he’s building and how he built it. It’s not fake. It’s truly authentic. I know coach [Mendenhall] uses that word a lot but it’s really authentic from the walk-on guy to the scholarship guy.”
On Friday, Griswold presided over the breaking of the rock, a ritual that is reserved for a veteran player who has distinguished himself during workouts and in other areas. This year, it was senior linebacker Jordan Mack.
“I don’t think there’s a wrong pick,” Griswold said. “He’s been through the lean years and then through Bronco’s first year, which was a gleaning out period of who really wants to be here and embodies what UVa is all about.
“[Mack’s] come out of his — I wouldn’t say shell — but he’s really stepped out and been a leader. You look at his strength numbers and the leadership is what’s really changed with him.”
Then-senior Olamide Zaccheaus broke the rock when the ritual made its debut in 2018 and he went on to catch 93 passes for 1,058 yards and nine touchdowns.
Many of UVa’s signees were enrolled for summer school at UVa and were allowed to work out during that period.
Griswold said that UVa has the fourth-youngest team in college football, a statistic that varies according to the site and the method of calculation.
Of the 132 players listed on Virginia’s roster as of Thursday afternoon, 42 were freshmen, 22 were redshirt freshmen and 24 were sophomores.
“Speed-wise, it’s a unique group,” Griswold said. “They truly like each other. They help each other. The energy has been very good. From top to bottom, it’s a very good class.”