July 18, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- They arrived at the University of Virginia with three bachelor's degrees between them: one from Notre Dame, in sociology, for John Montelus; and two from Oklahoma State, in economics and political science, for Brandon Pertile.
They're now working toward master's degrees, but education is not the only thing that brought Montelus and Pertile to UVA recently. They're football players, too, and each will compete for a starting position on the Cavaliers' offensive line when training camp opens late this month.
Montelus is a 6-4, 320-pound guard. The 6-5 Pertile, whose weight ranges from 320 to 325 pounds, is at tackle.
"They bring size and experience," offensive line coach Garett Tujague said of the team's graduate transfers. "I'm excited to start fall camp with those guys. They're on a mission."
At the ACC Football Kickoff last week in Charlotte, North Carolina, UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall discussed his philosophy regarding graduate transfers.
"I'm not a football-only person. I'm not a football-only coach," Mendenhall said. "I love the idea of `and.' If someone is sincerely interested in a graduate degree from a place as difficult and challenging and powerful as Virginia, and they want to play football, now that's compelling. And so I support grad transfers ... If they can contribute in football and maybe have a better experience than what they've had and get a graduate degree, how does that not help them in their life?"
Montelus, a graduate student in the Curry School of Education, is from the Boston area, where in high school he played against current UVA offensive guard Jack McDonald, who starred at Boston College High School. In 2013, Montelus redshirted at Notre Dame. In 2014, '15, and '16, he appeared in six games for the Fighting Irish on the offensive and defensive lines.
Pertile, who's from Clearwater, Florida, is enrolled in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He plans to eventually attend law school.
He began his college career at Georgia State and then transferred to Mesa Community College in Arizona, where he received another year of eligibility after an injury-marred 2014 season. Pertile was a backup offensive lineman at Oklahoma State in 2015 and '16.
They've been training this summer alongside the Wahoos' returning players in director of football performance Frank Wintrich's strength and conditioning program.
"I came here, I was 22 years old, I thought I'd plateaued [physically]," Pertile said. "But I'm already getting stronger, getting faster. Big John, too."
A combination of injuries and attrition left the Cavaliers, who finished 2-10 in 2016, thin on the offensive line heading into their second season under Mendenhall. And so Montelus and Pertile are significant additions to a group whose returning members include McDonald, Jake Fieler, Jack English, R.J. Proctor and Steven Moss, as well as two linemen who redshirted last season: Ben Knutson and Dillon Reinkensmeyer.
"The early returns and reports on our two grad-transfer O-linemen [are] they're very impressive as people, but also as football players," Mendenhall said. "In relation to our given situation and need, they will be able to help."
Tujague said he won't be surprised if Montelus and Pertile win starting jobs, but "obviously they've got to come in and earn it, and they'll start on the second [team] on the depth chart. I want to see them battle through adversity, and they weren't here in the spring."
Montelus has not had the college career he envisioned coming out of high school. Neither has Pertile.
"So it's really exciting to have this opportunity," Pertile said, "to be able to suit up again with the intent of getting that starting job and taking this team to a bowl game. That's the real goal. To be a part of that has been really rewarding to this point."
In 2015, Montelus traveled to Charlottesville with the Irish, who rallied to beat the Cavaliers 34-27 on a long touchdown pass in the final minute. Standing on the sideline at Scott Stadium, Montelus said Monday, he never dreamed he'd be back one day in a UVA uniform. He's eager to make the most of this opportunity.
"Getting that chance to play one more year of football, it's definitely big," Montelus said. "I'm here to get a starting job and just help change the whole culture."
When Montelus was in high school, he received a scholarship offer from UVA, whose head coach then was Mendenhall's predecessor, Mike London. But Montelus didn't talk to anyone on the Cavaliers' current coaching staff until he announced late last year that, after graduating from Notre Dame in December, he planned to transfer to another school for his final season.
Pertile was in junior college when he first spoke to Tujague, then one of Mendenhall's assistants at BYU.
"It didn't work out there," Pertile recalled, but after he decided to leave Oklahoma State he contacted Tujague again, "and it was like we just picked up right where we left off. It was a really good transition. He's a really good guy to talk to about everything, and not only just Virginia. It was just a no-brainer after that, really."
Their transition to UVA has been smooth, Pertile and Montelus said, and not only because their new teammates have been welcoming.
"Coach Tujague treats us like family," Pertile said, "and that's incredible. I've already been to his house twice for a team dinner, a team meal. He's such a great guy. He wants you to be great, and it really makes you work hard for him, because you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice, that he wants you to succeed, and that's a breath of fresh air, to have that personal relationship with the coach."
Montelus said: "It's like a big family. He really cares about his players ... I'm definitely myself around Coach Tujague. I'm comfortable calling him at any time and asking him a question."
Tujague, who's been on vacation, said he's eager to return to Charlottesville to work with all of his linemen.
"I just love being around those guys," he said. "Their work ethic has been unreal, and their commitment to Bronco's program has been unreal."
STUDENT OF THE GAME: In senior safety Quin Blanding, Virginia has one of the most productive players in program history. Blanding, a graduate of Virginia Beach's Bayside High, is heading into his fourth season as a starter for the Cavlaiers.
With 358 career tackles, Blanding ranks ninth all-time at UVA, and he's on track to break the school record of 435 set by linebacker Jamie Sharper in the 1990s.
At BYU, Mendenhall's standouts included linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who's now with the New England Patriots. Mendenhall sees similarities between Blanding and Van Noy.
"The best before I came to UVa was Kyle Van Noy in terms of looking at film, doing his preparation work and applying it in real time on the field," Mendenhall said. "Quin is exceptional in that regard, and I think it's one of the reasons why he's been so productive.
"The production he's had is [the result of] a lot of contributing factors -- supporting cast, balls that make it to him -- but a lot of where he is, he's putting himself there based on preparation.
"When I'm asked by NFL personnel about him, it's usually one of the first things I say. His ability to take content from the classroom or from practice and then apply it in real time [is] exceptional. I'm not sure many coaches -- myself included -- could go out on the field and apply [information] the way he does. He's very skilled at that."
UNFAZED: On Monday, the ACC released its preseason poll, based on voting by 167 media members. Not surprisingly, Virginia was picked to finish last in the Coastal Division.
Blanding made it clear Friday, when the topic was raised at the ACC Football Kickoff, that the `Hoos aren't worried about preseason projections.
"Just the whole team in general, we don't look at that," Blanding said. "We honestly don't care. We just go out there each day and each week, just playing hard and going at it. That's our bottom line as a team ... that we don't care about [being] the underdog, we don't care if we're the top dog. We just go out there and play each week like it's our last."
STEPPING UP: When defensive line coach Ruffin McNeill left last month to become an assistant at Oklahoma, his departure created a vacancy on the staff at UVA. Mendenhall quickly filled it, promoting Vic So'oto, a graduate assistant in 2016, to full-time defensive line coach.
"I don't think you replace Ruffin," Mendenhall said Friday in Charlotte. "I think what I've chosen to do is look at the existing needs of my program, and then do the best I can to fill those needs."
The Cavaliers' defensive assistants -- So'oto, Kelly Poppinga (outside linebackers), Shane Hunter (inside linebackers) and Nick Howell (secondary) -- are former BYU graduate assistants under Mendenhall.
Moreover, So'oto, Poppinga and Hunter played for Mendenhall at BYU.
As coaches, Mendenhall said, "Nick Howell trained Kelly Poppinga. Kelly Poppinga trained Shane Hunter. Shane Hunter trained Vic So'oto. It's not an accident. I believe in developing from within, and I won't hire a graduate assistant [such as] Jackson Matteo unless I can see him [eventually] around a full-time staff table. So that is one of the qualifications for this very nature. I know each one of those people. I trust them. They know me and trust me, and they believe in what we do and how we do it, and they think it's the very best way."
With the defensive linemen last year, So'oto worked alongside McNeill, who was also Virginia's assistant head coach. So Mendenhall expects a seamless transition for So'oto on the field.
"He's passionate about learning football," Mendenhall said. "He will be exceptional as a defensive line coach and in-season and [during] practices and all that."
During his NFL career, So'oto played for Green Bay, Oakland, Washington, Arizona, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.
So'oto and his wife, Ashley, have four children. Ashley was Mendenhall's personal assistant in the football office at BYU.
Cooper Thriving Under New StaffSwimming & Diving12/12/17A senior from Atlanta and one of the team's captains, Caitlin Cooper set the UVA women's record in the 50-yard freestyle early this month in Athens, Georgia.Hazzard Aiming to Uphold Family TraditionTrack & Field, Cross Country12/11/17A freshman from Long Island, New York, Halle Hazzard is the younger sister of Payton Hazzard, who was an All-America sprinter for the Cavaliers.UVA's Campbell Winners Share Special BondFootball12/6/17UVA is the only ACC school with multiple winners of the prestigious Campbell Trophy: Tom Burns in 1993 and Micah Kiser this year.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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