He was looking forward to playing once more for the coach who convinced him to leave his native Hawaii for the Commonwealth.
Virginia running back Wayne Taulapapa was former UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first recruit as leader of the Hoos.
Taulapapa, an ex-BYU commit, pledged and signed with Virginia as a member of its 2016 class and arrived on Grounds in time for the 2018 season after serving an LDS mission in between his senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Since then, he’s evolved into a reliable rusher — with 19 touchdowns on the ground and 1,192 rushing yards in his career — while playing for Mendenhall.
Mendenhall was slated to end his six-year run as UVa coach in the Fenway Bowl on Wednesday, but the postseason bout was scrapped on Sunday due to coronavirus issues within the Cavaliers’ program.
So instead, Mendenhall’s stay in charge of the Cavaliers finished unceremoniously and abruptly.
“It’d be awesome for all of the things he’s given us, we pay back by winning [the bowl game],” Taulapapa said last week following a practice in Charlottesville. “That’s with the lessons that we’ve learned and how well we do in life, and that’s something he’s always preached to us. And so obviously to him, it’d mean the world, and then to us, to know that we’d send him off with a win, it’d mean the world.”
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Taulapapa said since Mendenhall’s Dec. 2 announcement of his decision to step down from his post after the bowl contest, the player and the coach had positive discussions about the years they’ve shared together at UVa.
Mendenhall’s trek across the country from BYU in Provo, Utah, where he was the coach of the Cougars for the prior 11 seasons, was a short one comparatively to Taulapapa’s move.
“Just finishing what we started at the end of the day,” Taulapapa said of those talks with Mendenhall about their time together. “I came here with the opportunity to not only excel with football, but also with academics as well as within the community and I think those are the conversations we’ve had each and every day with, ‘What impact have we had here in Charlottesville, if any? And then what can we do to make it better to the places we do go in the future?’”
Taulapapa said Mendenhall was completely invested in helping his players cap their season with a victory, too.
“With the things he’s done for this program, you can tell he truly cares about it and this isn’t something he’s throwing to the side,” Taulapapa said. “He’s putting his utmost focus into it and I think it’s important to us.”
Key assistants say goodbye
Not long after the Fenway Bowl was officially canceled on Sunday, a pair of Mendenhall’s assistants announced on Twitter they’d be leaving UVa.
“Thank you, Wahoo Nation, for enduring me these past [six] years,” former running backs coach Mark Atuaia wrote. “My motivation to do my best stemmed from my relationships with my brothers on the staff and the families that entrusted me with their sons. In return, you all were able to see the fruits of that love.”
Last week, Yahoo Sports! reported Atuaia was expected to be hired into the same role at Washington State.
Jason Beck, the quarterbacks coach who developed Kurt Benkert, Bryce Perkins and Brennan Armstrong, is departing as well. Benkert and Perkins are both in the NFL and Armstrong’s 2019 campaign was highlighted by setting UVa single-season records for passing (4,449 yards), total offense (4,700), passing touchdowns (31) and completions (326).
“My watch has ended here at the University of Virginia,” Beck wrote. “It’s been an honor coaching these young men and a privilege working alongside my brothers. Thank you, Wahoo Nation for the support and all the memories.”
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg reported Beck is headed to Syracuse, where he’ll join former Cavaliers offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Beck was scheduled to call plays in the Fenway Bowl in place of Anae, who was not going to coach in the bowl game.
Last week, UVa football player Keytaon Thompson said Anae helped Thompson craft his unique, do-it-all role in the Cavaliers’ offense.
“I’m going to miss him for sure,” Thompson said.
Oluwatimi chooses Michigan
One of the best centers in the country is leaving the Cavaliers. Olusegun Oluwatimi announced on social media on Monday evening that he’s committed to Michigan and will transfer to play for the Wolverines next season.
Oluwatimi was a finalist for the Rimington Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top center.
For the Hoos, he was the anchor of their offensive line having started 35 times overall and the last 32 straight games.
Michigan, under coach Jim Harbaugh, will make its first College Football Playoff appearance on Friday in the Orange Bowl against Georgia. Last week, the Wolverines’ offensive line earned the Joe Moore Award, which is given to the most outstanding offensive line unit in the country.
Earlier this month, Oluwatimi took a recruiting visit to Michigan shortly after entering the transfer portal following the decision Mendenhall made to step away the end of the season.
Taylor headed to UNC
Linebacker Noah Taylor is staying in the ACC, but will continue his career elsewhere. On Monday, he announced on Twitter his decision to transfer from Virginia to North Carolina.
“You get a lot of hard decisions to make,” he said last week about what it was like to be recruited while in the transfer portal.
Taylor spent four seasons at UVa, tallying 170 total tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and three interceptions.
Haskins signs with USC
Virginia senior left tackle Bobby Haskins announced late Sunday on Twitter that he’d transfer to Southern California and play out his final season of eligibility with the Trojans.
Haskins started 20 games over the past three seasons with the Hoos.