CHARLOTTESVILLE — As he envisioned a college football career, Josh Clifford could not have pictured himself wearing jersey No. 77.
Numbers in the 70s are generally reserved for offensive and defensive linemen. Clifford was a wide receiver and all-state defensive back at Glenvar High School, where his father was the head coach.
Clifford wore No. 7 at Glenvar, so, when he was given a choice of numbers at UVa this fall, he went with No. 77.
“It was really humbling knowing that all the hard work that I’d put in was finally getting noticed,” said Clifford, a redshirt freshman who joined the team as a walk-on when he arrived on campus.
He was presented the number by wide receiver Terrell Jana, the captain of the kick-return team, at practice.
“Having the respect from upperclassmen and some of the starters was really gratifying,” Clifford added.
Counting the six UVa numbers that have been retired, there was one number left after Clifford’s selection, No. 74, and that went to another player from the Roanoke Valley, true-freshman defensive back Jake Dewease from Lord Botetourt.
According to UVa’s weekly football press release, 33 players are still without numbers.
“I love Josh,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He’s tough and he’s resilient and, man, does he try hard. And, he catches everything.
“Those things are eventually recognized by their peers. For Josh Clifford, through his kickoff work, as well as his offensive [performance], it was like a double whammy.”
The scout teams at Virginia refer to themselves as the Mad Hatters.
Clifford has been named Mad Hatter of the week in multiple capacities — punts, kickoffs, punt returns and offense. The reward is a towel that says “Fourth Side,” and he’s got a collection of them.
He doesn’t expect his contributions to end there.
“Definitely one of my goals is to get in on special teams and working my way up to offense,” said Clifford, who had 51 receptions for 710 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at Glenvar, which is coached by his father, Kevin Clifford.
“Right now, I’m working as hard as I can and controlling what I can control. I’ve been on the sideline [for games] with the jersey, just not fully loaded with the pads and stuff. You have to get to the two-deep on the depth chart to fully suit up.”
He’s confident that he’ll get on the field at some point.
“I don’t know if it will be this season or next season but I definitely think I can attain that goal,” said Clifford, whose older brother, Zack, has been a record-setting quarterback at Ferrum.
It might have to come with a different number. He can’t go out for passes with No. 77.
“Hopefully, next year, I’ll at least get an eligible number,” he said.
It could all add up to a career in his dad’s profession.
“It’s in my blood,” said Clifford, who has made a point of observing the Mendenhall staff. “I’d definitely like to carry on my dad’s legacy.”