Virginia running back Mike Hollins made his return to the practice field Tuesday, four months after he survived a shooting that took the lives of three of his teammates.
Hollins was a full participant as the Cavaliers opened spring practice, a remarkable recovery after he was shot in the back in November and spent time on a ventilator before being discharged from the hospital following a weeklong stay.
"Just to watch how he's attacked everything, could easily have made excuses, easily have overthought things, but he's taking it upon himself to respond and show perseverance and be resilient," coach Tony Elliott said. "I think a lot of it is for himself, but the majority of it is for his teammates. There was a time when we didn't know if he'd ever have the chance to play to play football again. I'm just grateful to be on the grass, grateful to have an opportunity to be here at the University of Virginia and lead this program, lead these young men, all the guys that decided to come back and pick up the pieces and turn this tragedy into a triumph.
"Just so happy for Mike, because we all know that as a football player that your time is going to come to an end. You definitely wouldn't want it to come to an end in that fashion. So to see him to have another opportunity, just to go out on his own terms, makes it really special."
Hollins was one of four football players shot on a charter bus after they returned home from a field trip to Washington, D.C. Teammates Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D'Sean Perry were killed in the tragedy. Another student, Marlee Morgan, was also shot but survived.
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., a UVA student and former member of the football team who was on the trip, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Prosecutors have also charged him with two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges related to shooting Hollins and Morgan.
Running back Perris Jones, Hollins' roommate, said the entire team has taken inspiration from watching the way Hollins has worked his way back to take the field again.
"Just the way he's carried himself throughout this tragedy and how he continues to carry himself, it's surreal," Jones said. "He is a strong man, and his fight every day encourages all of us to continue to fight and to do the best that we absolutely can because if he can do it, we can as well, so it's definitely motivating."
There were certainly mixed emotions Tuesday as players practiced for the first time since the tragedy happened. Elliott made sure to tell his team to be grateful for the opportunity, but to also remember the legacies of their fallen teammates.
Kicker Will Bettridge, a high school teammate of Perry's, has changed his number to Perry's No. 41 as a way to honor him. Elliott said there will be other opportunities throughout the year to keep honoring Davis, Perry and Chandler.
"As I told the guys, we're not moving on, but we do have a responsibility to move forward," Elliott said. "We believe that the spirits and the legacies of the three men that we lost would want us to move forward. But there's going to be some times where there's going to be some emotional milestones that we're going to have to get through.
"But I believe from what I've seen so far, the guys have really taken hold to the appreciation and the gratitude that they have to be here at the University of Virginia to carry forward the legacy."