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UVA FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK

UVa Football Notebook: RB Ronnie Walker Jr. 'ahead of schedule' in recovery from injury

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Virginia running back Ronnie Walker Jr. runs the ball during a game against William and Mary on Sept. 4 at Scott Stadium.

Virginia’s group of running backs is deeper than it was during the spring, and the Cavaliers could get another boost sooner than they expected.

“Ronnie Walker [Jr.] looks good,” UVa coach Tony Elliott said of his fifth-year running back who was putting together an excellent set of practices in March before suffering a leg injury.

“He’s ahead of schedule,” running backs coach Keith Gaither said.

According to Gaither, Walker was slated for an October return, but is on track now for late September.

Last season, Walker carried the ball five times for 32 yards and two scores. It was his second year with the Cavaliers after transferring from Indiana, where he showed promise as a freshman in 2018 and rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’ll still be down for fall camp,” Elliott said. “He’s not quite where he needs to be yet from a change-of-direction standpoint, but looks good straight ahead.”

The Hoos entered the spring with four running backs, but midway through were down to two. Gaither said they’ll enter preseason practice with six running backs, not including Walker. Newcomers to join the bunch include Miami transfer Cody Brown as well as freshman Xavier Brown.

Elliott said sophomore wide receiver Malachi Fields will also miss training camp due to an injury. Fields broke a bone in his foot and needed surgery. Other players that the Hoos will be without during preseason practice include junior kicker Justin Duenkel and freshman wide receiver Dakota Twitty (ACL).

Defensive ends coach Chris Slade said the Cavaliers are about three to four deep at both the defensive end position and the bandit position. Slade said the one player the staff plans to cross-train at both spots is Michigan State transfer Jack Camper.

“He’s big enough to play the end spot,” Slade said, “and I think he’s agile enough to play a little bit in space.”

Two-sport athlete and backup quarterback Jay Woolfolk “has jumped right in,” since baseball season ended, according to quarterbacks coach Taylor Lamb. UVa’s baseball season ended last month at the Greenville Regional, where Woolfolk threw 1 2/3 shutout innings in the Cavaliers’ NCAA postseason opener against Coastal Carolina.

Lamb said when Woolfolk returned, his football teammates gravitated toward him to welcome him back.

“Mechanically, quarterback-wise, he’s gotten back into it over the summer,” Lamb said. “He’s gotten better from early June to late July throwing the football. He’s still got some baseball stuff in it, but that’s going to be there for the rest of his life. It doesn’t hurt him too much, but I think it takes a couple of months because he’s throwing a new ball … so that’s the challenges he’s met with.”

Lamb said Woolfolk has learned and picked up the offense well.

Elliott and many of his assistants said strength coach Adam Smotherman did an excellent job of guiding the Cavaliers through the summer and changing the build of the team.

And Elliott noted UVa’s new nutrition plan played a role in that, too.

“The nutrition drives the strength and conditioning,” Elliott said. “You can’t put bad gas in the race car and expect it to go fast. … You’ve got to put good fuel in and so you’re seeing the combination of the science behind the way Coach Smo runs the weight room [and] the additional resources that [athletic director] Carla [Williams] worked really, really hard for us to put into nutrition, and physically, they look a lot better.”

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Six transfers joined the UVa football team earlier this summer and two were on Grounds for spring practice. According to coaches, the staff is pleased with how seamlessly those imports have adapted to their fresh surroundings.

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