How Bronco Mendenhall will remember Virginia players killed in shooting

How Bronco Mendenhall will remember Virginia players killed in shooting

The impact D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler had on the Virginia football community and the people they interacted with extended far beyond the field.

That was the message several of their former coaches said after the three University of Virginia football players were killed and two other students were injured in a shooting on campus late Sunday night.

Former BYU and Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall dedicated the entirety of the latest episode of his podcast, HeadCoachU, to discussing Perry, Davis and Chandler and remembering the interactions they had with others.

He was joined by a variety of former assistants who knew the trio from their time together at Virginia — a group filled with Utah ties that included Kelly Poppinga, Garett Tujague, Mark Atuaia, Nick Howell, Justin Anderson and Matthew Edwards.

Perry, Chandler and Davis were shot and killed by the alleged gunman, former Virginia walk-on football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., after returning from a field trip to Washington, DC, ESPN reported.

Two other students, Virginia running back Mike Collins and Marlee Morgan, were also shot, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Mendenhall, who resigned as Virginia’s coach last season after six years leading the program, knew all three players. He had recruited all three, and Davis and Perry both played at Virginia for the Utah native. Chandler transferred to Virginia this year from Wisconsin.

A few poignant stories stood out from the hour-long podcast, many revolving around family.

“I’m hopeful that this can be a powerful testimonial and memorial to their families that they’ll be able to have moving forward and hopefully another positive thing that reflects on the impact these kids have had,” Mendenhall said.


FILE – Virginia linebacker D’Sean Perry runs on the field during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Syracuse on Sept. 23, 2022 in Syracuse, NY Perry was one of three Virginia football players killed in a shooting, Sunday, Nov 13, 2022, in Charlottesville, Va., while returning from a class trip to see a play.

Adrian Kraus, Associated Press

Remembering D’Sean Perry

Poppinga, the former BYU linebacker who coached at BYU and Virginia before ending up this season at Boise State, recruited Perry and coached the linebacker out of Miami during his first three collegiate seasons.

“D’Sean had the purest heart. That’s what always stood out to me about D’Sean. He was very open-minded about everything,” Poppinga said. “… I remember when we had him over to our house the first time, my wife was like, ‘He’s the sweetest kid.’ ”

Perry’s desire to keep improving was lauded by his coaches.

“That’s just who he was, always trying hard, always working hard, never complaining and just was a team guy,” said Howell, the former BYU defensive coordinator under Mendenhall who filled the same position at Virginia and is now at Vanderbilt. “That’s what sticks out to me as I reflect on D’Sean and (I’m) just grateful for his example of hard work and humility.”

Tujague, who played and coached at BYU and is in his seventh season as Virginia’s offensive line coach, saw Perry’s thirst for knowledge from the other side of the huddle and called him “a young man who just embraces the grind.”

“He’s been a great inspiration for me because after practice he’d always come up and ask me, ‘What can I do better?’ I’d be, I can’t tell you what you can do better to my guys. I’ll tell you after we get out of fall camp or spring ball, but he always wanted to improve,” Tujague said.

When Poppinga told his family (he and his wife have four daughters) about the shooting, one of his children shared the memory she’ll take of Perry — when he would play the piano on visits to the family house.

“I don’t think D’Sean could read music, he did it all just playing by ear. He just got on the piano and started rolling and (she) would sit right next to him, and he would just play away. That’s what she said the other night, I remember D’Sean playing the piano and how that brought me peace,” Poppinga said.


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FILE – Virginia’s Lavel Davis Jr. (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Richmond in Charlottesville, Va. on Sept. 3, 2022. Davis was one of three Virginia football players killed in a shooting, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Charlottesville, Va., while returning from a class trip to see a play.

Mike Kropf/The Daily Progress via AP

Remembering Lavel Davis Jr.

Mendenhall remembered the 6-foot-7 Davis, a wide receiver from Dorchester, South Carolina, as someone “very contemplative and introspective and humble and unique and genuine and sincere and thoughtful and really unselfish,” he told CBS Sports.

Edwards, a former BYU tight end who spent time as an analytics director for Mendenhall at Virginia, shared a bond with Davis that stemmed back to his grandfather, former BYU Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards.

Edwards’ son, Luke, also has the middle name LaVell, in honor of his great grandfather.

“When I told (my son) we had a player named Lavel, he looked at me and said, ‘Oh, he’s a part of the LaVell family,’ Edwards said.

“Whenever he’d come to practice… Lavel would always make (my son) feel special. When I told Lavel that Luke had said he was a part of the LaVell family, that meant a lot to him. That wasn’t just it’s kind of a fun thing, he really cared about the people he was around.”

Tujague’s son, Carson Tujague, revealed another story that showed how considerate Davis was.

The younger Tujague played defensive end in high school and is committed to join the BYU program as a preferred walk-on after serving for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Botswana Namibia Africa mission.

The elder Tujague, during one of the most emotional segments of the podcast, shared that his son, after learning about the tragedy, had called his father, insisting to talk to him about Davis.

Unbeknownst to his father, Davis had been working with Carson Tujague on improving his catching skills, “cheering him on and motivating him,” in the words of father Garett.

“The last 18 months almost every night, Lavel has been meeting him to get him on the jugs machine, teaching him how to catch a ball, teaching him the right way,” Garett Tujague said.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, those catches I got over my shoulder on Friday nights, that’s cuz of Lavel.’ I didn’t know that. I knew my son was down there, I knew my son was training. I knew coach Howell had him on some crazy tackling drill on the popsicle sled. I had no idea he was down there with Lavel,” the coach said.

It was a poignant reminder of the type of bond these players can develop not just with teammates, but with those around their programs as well.

“Our kids grow up and see these guys and they look up to them. They’re like idols,” Tujague said. “The fact they would take the time out of their day — their school, their demands from us — and to teach our kids their craft, to pass it on …”

“Every time Carson catches a ball from this day before, he’s going to remember Lavel.”


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FILE – Wisconsin wide receiver Devin Chandler runs up field during an NCAA college football game against Iowa, on Dec. 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. Chandler, who transferred to the University of Virginia, was one of three Virginia football players killed in a shooting, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Charlottesville, Va., while returning from a class trip to see a play.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

Remembering Devin Chandler

Mendenhall never had the chance to coach Chandler, a wide receiver from Huntersville, North Carolina. Chandler first ended up at Wisconsin before transferring to Virginia this season, though Mendenhall got to know him through the recruitment process.

“He was sitting on a porch looking out on our property choosing between us and Wisconsin,” Mendenhall told CBS Sports. “When he made his decision for Wisconsin, I just had this thought … that this wasn’t going to be over.”

One thing that really stood out about Chandler? His smile.

“His smile, it immediately lights up the room,” Mendenhall told CBS Sports. “Larger than life. His vibrancy of spirit and countenance draws people to him.”

That had an impact, too, with Anderson, the former BYU receiver who was the director of player personnel at Virginia under Mendenhall and is now back at BYU in that same position.

“When he got in the transfer portal, I was like, oh man, I remember telling (Virginia receivers coach Marques) Hagans, man we’ve got to get this guy back here. He’s the right fit. He’s an amazing player,” Anderson said.

“He had a smile that was pretty infectious. He seemed to be quite quiet initially when we first met him, but he had a contagious smile.”

Drew Meyer, who’s still with the Virginia program as a special teams analyst and served under Mendenhall, joined the podcast and recalled a time during a scrimmage when Chandler returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and his excitement energized his teammates.

“Devin’s sliding into the end zone — he’s got his arms up, his legs out. He’s talking smack,” Meyer said.

“… He was always a guy who was smiling, who was dancing, trying to pick guys up.”


Honoring the fallen players

During the podcast, Atuaia, a former BYU running back and assistant coach, said that several former Virginia assistants will wear Virginia gear during their respective teams’ games this weekend to honor the three fallen players.

“We’re going to represent those young men at the current institutions that we’re at and let them know they’re not forgotten by us, that we love them and that we care for them and that all of the time that we’ ve put in and all the relationships we’ve built, they don’t just leave because we’ve left,” said Atuaia, who’s now at Washington State.

“So many times something symbolic reinforces a feeling. You can’t tell that those kids, when they see their former coaches at different institutions, wearing their mark that it’s not going to be impactful. It’s an amazing gesture, and I appreciate that example,” Mendenhall said.

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