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Joe Comer, Anthony Johnson ready for Louisville homecoming

Joe Comer, Anthony Johnson ready for Louisville homecoming

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When Joe Comer earned his jersey number in early September, the walk-on graduate transfer electrified his team with a celebration he learned imitating Spiderman as a 6-year-old.

The defensive back performed a backflip.

“Just happiness,” Comer said. “I’ve been working hard all spring and all summer for it. I was just glad to hear my name called to earn a jersey because I know that’s a big thing here at this school. I was just really thankful for it.”

Comer’s journey to Virginia was anything but traditional, and his lengthy career at several different schools comes full circle Saturday when the Cavaliers face Louisville, one of his former playing destinations.

He couldn’t suppress a laugh Tuesday when listing all his college stops.

Comer started his collegiate career at Livingstone College, a Division II program in Salisbury, North Carolina, in the spring of 2016. He spent the summer at Livingstone before joining West Georgia, another Division II program, in the fall of 2016.

Comer joined Louisville as a walk-on in the spring of 2018, spending a year at the ACC program. This is where Comer chuckles about his revolving door of college experiences.

He returned to West Georgia in the fall of 2019 before again returning to Louisville in 2020. During his undergraduate career he spent time at three different schools, and he had two separate stops at both West Georgia and Louisville.

After graduating from Louisville, Comer looked for a new destination to play in 2021. He made offseason plans to join an SEC school, but the logistics didn’t work out. He decided to contact his close friend and former Louisville teammate, Anthony Johnson, who had transferred to UVa after the 2020 season.

Johnson asked UVa defensive coordinator Nick Howell if they had room for a hard-working walk-on. Howell said yes, the timing worked out and Comer joined the Cavaliers for his final collegiate season.

“It was just like a perfect situation for the both of us,” Johnson said. “I was coming into a new environment, but I had someone familiar that I knew to kind of make things even easier of a transition.”

Johnson was the first player to greet Comer, his roommate, after the walk-on earned his jersey number.

“I just was overwhelmed with joy and excitement for him,” Johnson said.

The two friends and former Louisville teammates worked through this week’s practices with an added piece of motivation, as the Cardinals are Virginia’s opponent Saturday.

“We’ve been talking about this since we both got here,” Comer said. “That’s just the game we’ve really just been waiting for. We talk about this a lot.”

Comer and Johnson talking a lot about any topic doesn’t come as a surprise to those who know them. Teammates and coaches say each guy has a massive personality, and they’re almost always happy.

The two defensive backs are constantly messing around with teammates and bringing an infectious energy to the practice field.

“It’s just a bright spot,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Those two kids, AJ and Joe, they kind of come as a team, like a superhero tandem. They travel together, and they’re just always smiling or laughing or elbowing one another or there’s some side dialogue happening and giggling. They’re just fun to be around.”

The superhero comparison applies well to Comer. As a kid, he loved Spiderman. The web-shooting superhero sparked his desire to learn how to do a backflip, and he mastered the task when he was 6 years old.

“I used to watch like X-Men and Spiderman,” Comer said. “I was a big Spiderman fan, so I used to watch how he flipped off walls and stuff. I used to go outside and like try to run up a tree and just do a backflip, and I kept doing it until I did it.”

Shockingly, Comer said there weren’t any injuries during the process of learning how to backflip. It came easily to him.

On the field, Comer would likely be the Robin to Johnson’s Batman. Johnson starts at corner for the Cavaliers, while Comer saw his first action of the season on special teams against Miami. Johnson has three pass breakups, an interception and 19 tackles, while Comer hasn’t yet registered a tackle.

While Johnson is the more impactful on-field player, Comer’s addition to the program isn’t lost on his peers. The group understands the daily sacrifice he makes to play for UVa, and his consistent energy and selfless attitude is appreciated by the team’s veterans. Comer, with the help of his grandfather, pays for his own graduate school tuition as a walk-on within the program.

“Whatever role he can do to help, he will,” Johnson said. “He’s the same way off the field.”

As for this weekend’s matchup, there’s no bad blood between the two UVa players and their old school, but they still desperately want a win over their former teammates.

“Some of them are like my brothers still,” Comer said. “I’m still cool with them, but we’re enemies on the field.”

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