CHARLOTTESVILLE — Almost four years have passed since Hawaiian running back Wayne Taulapapa made an oral commitment to Brigham Young.
It’s been a long time between official rushing attempts for Taulapapa, who elected not to play for the Cougars after then-BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall took the Virginia job.
Having already committed to serve a mission in Nicaragua for the Latter-day Saints church, Taulapapa didn’t become available to the Cavaliers until the 2018 season.
Although he appeared in eight games, most of that action came on special teams and he did not have a single rushing attempt.
There should be more opportunities this season with the departure of Jordan Ellis, who rushed for 1,026 yards as a senior.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins is the top returning rusher — he finished with 923 yards. No other UVa running back had more than 100 rushing yards for the season.
“Last year was kind of a progress year for me,” Taulapapa said. “Coming back from my mission, there were a lot of things I had to do to become fundamentally sound.
“I kind of had to learn to play football again, earning my way and earning my reps.”
Competition will come from a pair of juniors, Lamont Atkins and P.K. Kier, as well as freshman Mike Hollins, the MVP in the 2018 Louisiana state championship game.
“I’ve been back for a year now and my strength is back and speed is back,” Taulapapa said.
The running back candidates have seen Ellis as a model, but the departed starter was used almost exclusively as a ball-carrier — he had a total of seven receptions in 13 games.
Taulapapa caught 15 balls as a junior in high school, although he appears to be more of the power type at 5-9 and 210 pounds.
He has seen a lot of passing offenses, though, and twice played against University of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa when they were at rival high schools in Honolulu.
In a 2014, Punahou High School and Taulapapa defeated Tagovailoa and his Saint Louis teammates 55-7, with Taulapapa rushing for a game-high 167 yards. Tagovailoa was 15 of 33 for 130 yards that day.
Note: Taulapapa was one of three Virginia players who signed with the Cavs after Mendenhall was hired. Another was DeVante Cross, a quarterback from Pennsylvania who became a defensive back, and Trysten Hill, a defensive lineman from Florida who had acceptance issues and ended up at UCF before becoming a second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the 2019 NFL Draft.