Virginia tailback Mike Hollins, who survived a gunshot wound to his stomach in the November shooting attack that killed three teammates, got the first touch of the Cavaliers' spring game Saturday to a standing ovation.
Hollins rushed for 7 yards up the middle to cheers from supporters at Scott Stadium. He later scored a 1-yard touchdown into an end zone painted to memorialize his fallen teammates, Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.
Hollins, who had 11 carries for 40 yards in the first half of the spring game, patted the ground and celebrated the score. He did not play in the second half.
Virginia coach Tony Elliott said there was no plan to get Hollins the first touch, but he said there was extensive work put into preparing his players for the numerous reminders of their fallen teammates they expected to encounter in Saturday's spring game.
"There's been constant reminders, and there will be more as we go forward," Elliott said. "We talked about it, had our sports psychology team there to work with them on some exercises in case they got stressed or overwhelmed or anxious. But in terms of that first touch, it just came about organically."
Hollins thanked fans later Saturday in a video posted to Virginia's Twitter account.
A special message from Mike Hollins!#UVAStrong | #GoHoos pic.twitter.com/3y6aHxKhH8— Virginia Cavaliers (@VirginiaSports) April 15, 2023
Hollins spent a week in the hospital after he was wounded while running back toward the bus where his teammates had been shot, according to his mother. Virginia canceled its final two games of the 2022 season, and Saturday's spring game marked the first time the Cavaliers played in front of fans since the deaths of Davis, Perry and Chandler.
Hollins has practiced throughout the spring and said he never had any intention of leaving UVA following the shooting.
"I could have left, I could have transferred, but I think of that as sweeping things under the rug and not handling the situation as best as I could," Hollins said last month. "The best place for me to move forward -- not move on, but move forward -- is in Charlottesville with the people who shared that experience with me.
"No one across the country feels the way we feel here in the facility. No one in the country knows how I feel about the situation besides the people here in this facility, and I got an uneasy feeling when I thought about leaving. I'm glad I stayed because the support is what I need right now to get through."
Elliott said Hollins' role this spring has been critical in helping the Cavaliers balance the need to prepare for the upcoming season while not ignoring the still raw emotions as players continue to mourn Davis, Perry and Chandler.
"His life has been impacted and changed forever, so to see his resilience every single day, and his desire to move forward with purpose, it's been an inspiration to all the guys," Elliott said. "To be able to kind of put everything in perspective and understand that yeah, we're not moving on, but we do have to move forward -- and he set the tempo and the direction in how we're moving forward."
Virginia finished 3-7 last season and saw a wave of transfers at year-end, including quarterback Brennan Armstrong.
In Saturday's game, Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett took a step toward earning Virginia's starting job, completing 11 of 14 throws for 149 yards and a touchdown. Jack Griese, the grandson of NFL legend Bob Griese, led all rushers with 90 yards on 12 carries, two of which went for touchdowns.