“I grew up playing football in Canada, so I’m used to no fans,” Jana said Monday during a Zoom call with local media.
Only family members and close friends of Cavaliers players and coaches will be permitted to enter Scott Stadium as mandated by regulations in the commonwealth, a stark reminder of the outbreak that has killed 200,000 in the United States, according to data from The Washington Post.
Still, that Virginia managed to arrive at an actual game week remains a milestone considering this is the fifth potential season opener after cancellations and postponements altered others.
The reigning ACC Coastal Division champions originally were set to open Sept. 7 against Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in a nationally televised prime-time showdown. Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic led to that game being scrapped.
With the ACC moving to 10 conference games and one nonconference opponent for each school in an effort to salvage the season, the Cavaliers added Virginia Military Institute for the opener Sept. 11. That game was canceled when the Southern Conference voted not to play fall sports.
Next on the schedule was Virginia Tech on Sept. 19, marking the first time since 1970 the in-state rivals were going to meet in the opener and drawing considerable interest among football-starved fans in Virginia. A spike in positive tests within the Hokies’ locker room pushed that game to Dec. 12.
Clemson on the road Oct. 3 briefly became the next opener until the ACC moved Duke to Saturday, with both the Blue Devils and Cavaliers having an open date this weekend.
“It’s been a challenge,” Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall said during a Zoom call Monday. “The simplest narrative is probably the boy who cried wolf, and the players, I think, realize now that we made it to a Monday of game week, that this one is real.”
Mendenhall only recently began devoting more attention to installing the game plan and coaching players on technique and other football-related matters. Over the early portion of training camp, the architect of the Cavaliers’ rebuild had been, by his admission, largely a safety protocol monitor.
During practices, he would ensure players maintained the proper social distance and kept their masks on before allowing the ball to be snapped. His practice planning included how many players and which position groups were going to be at certain spots on the field at any given time.
In this first game week, he has a three-deep depth chart of coaches in all three phases in case there is a positive test among his staff, himself included.
Virginia is testing three times this week, with the final test Friday, as mandated for all ACC schools during game weeks.
The Cavaliers have reported zero new positive cases since July 24, making them an oddity in the conference that includes North Carolina State postponing a game because of widespread positive cases within the athletic department and Florida State Coach Mike Norvell revealing he tested positive.
Notre Dame, which joined ACC football for this season only, also postponed its game against Wake Forest after an outbreak.
“I can say what I’m hopeful to see,” Mendenhall said of the opener. “I hope they play with passion and enjoyment and enthusiasm and energy in a celebratory manner just to play the game. I hope that comes through in their body language and their effort and their interactions with one another.”