Virginia linebacker Charles Snowden slammed his helmet on the ground in frustration during the first quarter of Saturday’s win against Abilene Christian, barely able to move his right ankle in the immediate aftermath of an injury that ended his season.
Coaches and players were still processing the disheartening series of events when Mendenhall conducted his weekly Zoom news conference with the media Monday afternoon. He indicated seniors Elliott Brown and Matt Gahm would share time in Snowden’s place.
“Charles’s influence on our program has been breathtaking in terms of maturity and growth, and in a lot of ways, his own maturity and growth have matched that of the program,” Mendenhall said. “He came in as tall and thin and a basketball player, and he’s blossomed into a future NFL player with amazing leadership skills and a captain of our team in a four-year period. That trajectory almost has been straight up, and I think it is almost a mirror image of the program’s culture and direction, so it’s hard to separate Charles Snowden and U-Va. football. They seem to be one and the same, and I’m not sure there could be a better exemplar than him of what I would like our program to be.”
Snowden leads the Cavaliers and is fourth in the ACC in sacks (six). He’s fourth in tackles (44) for the reigning ACC Coastal Division champions, who face Florida State on Saturday night in Tallahassee.
After a sluggish beginning to the season, the 6-foot-7 pass rushing specialist was a major force behind Virginia’s defensive improvement during a three-game winning streak that started with a 44-41 upset of then-No. 15 North Carolina. Against the Tar Heels, Snowden had 10 tackles and four sacks, the most by a Virginia player since 1996.
He’s also one of 11 players on the team who helped establish the Groundskeepers, a group whose mission is to advocate for social justice, particularly in Charlottesville on the heels of a white nationalist rally in 2017 in which resident Heather Heyer was killed.
Over the summer, Snowden, a graduate of St. Albans School who starred in basketball, took part in Black Lives Matter protests in Washington shortly after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Snowden and a high school friend were at Lafayette Square on June 1 when law enforcement dispersed the crowd with an irritant to allow President Trump to walk to St. John’s Church and pose for a picture while holding the Bible.
Despite the injury, Snowden’s college career may not necessarily be over, according to his father, Chuck, who indicated in a text message Sunday that all options would be considered, with the NCAA allowing athletes participating in fall sports an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think part sad, part grief, part remorseful, part frustrated,” Mendenhall said. “You could probably substitute about every adjective you could imagine in there. I would just say I’m thankful just for all that he’s contributed to this point. I don’t think you can give more.”
Snowden is the second of four team captains, both on defense, to be lost for the season. Defensive tackle Richard Burney, a sixth-year senior, has been out since the end of last month with what Mendenhall termed a “health injury.”
The injury to Snowden also is the latest to befall a defense that has been without starters and significant contributors. Safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson have missed games because of injuries, and defensive tackle Jowon Briggs last week informed Mendenhall he would be entering the transfer portal.
Cornerbacks Nick Grant and D’Angelo Amos left Saturday’s 55-15 victory with ailments. Grant returned to the game, but he was in the injury tent when Snowden was helped off the field and went straight into the locker room.
“By the time I came back out, I could see him getting helped into the locker room,” Grant said. “Normally he would have come to the tent, so I knew it was something serious. That’s really rough for someone who’s worked so hard and leads our team in every aspect. It was pretty hard on me just watching him go back there.”
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