CHARLOTTE — Tony Elliott has been through personal tragedy long before he became the head coach at Virginia.
When Elliott was the offensive coordinator for the Clemson Tigers, he openly discussed losing his mother at a young age and how it shaped him and guided him to lead young people as a coach.
Nothing could prepare him for what occurred last November when three Cavaliers – Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry, and Devin Chandler – were tragically shot and killed. It rocked the Virginia program, the university, the Charlottesville community and Elliott.
“First and foremost, got to thank the college football community, which includes all of you guys and everybody across the country for just the outpour of support,” Elliott said when he addressed the media during Wednesday’s ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. “We felt it in Charlottesville. The same thing with the community of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, our student body. Everybody came to our side immediately.
“While we were in shock trying to regain our footing from what just happened, they held us up in the interim until we could kind of get ourselves grounded and figure out how we’re going to navigate forward.”
“The way that you get through it is together, and that’s the beauty of football,” Elliott. “It’s an ultimate team sport, and it forces you to sacrifice and rely on somebody else. It forces you to do hard things that you may not want to do because you have a connection and a bond and a love for your teammates.
“So these guys really is what gave me the inspiration to lead because it’s very difficult in a situation like that to know what to say, know what to do, and then to have an understanding of is it working and trying to figure out how to lead not just the players, but the staff and then also the athletic department through that situation.
“But these guys accepted the challenge. They understood that they have a responsibility to Lavel, Devin, and D’Sean to move forward in the right way, not moving on. There’s a difference. That was a big message within the program is we’re not moving on. We’re never going to forget this. We’re not going to put this to the side and act like it didn’t happen.”
Elliott calls the aftermath of tragedy Virginia’s “new normal” and part of their lives forever. Much of his team returned for the 2023 season, Elliott’s second with the Cavs. And they’re looking to improve upon a 3-7 record from last fall.
“I think for us that are in it and hopefully going forward anybody that has a connection to our program will see that it’s bigger than us,” Elliott said. “Ultimately, as we all chase purpose in life. We realize that purpose is not about me. It’s about what I can do for others.
“They didn’t ask for this. University of Virginia didn’t ask for this, but we were given this opportunity. A tremendous challenge, but we were given an opportunity. The opportunity that we see is that we can take something that is unexplainable, unprecedented, very, very difficult. You wouldn’t wish it on anybody, and we can find the beauty of it and use it to inspire others going forward by the way that we respond, by the way that we play, by the way that they live, by the way that they go forward in the future and the individual ways that they decided they wanted to honor the legacies of Lavel, Devin, and D’Sean.”
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