FORT LAUDERDALE, FL (WWBT)- When the clock hits zero to end the Orange Bowl on Monday night, Eli Hanback will be the only player who has seen playing time in all 52 of Bronco Mendenhall’s games at Virginia. He’s grown into a strong defensive lineman, but it’s a football seed that was planted in Ashland.
Hanback may have developed into one of the ACC’s best, but he hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from. The senior graduated from Patrick Henry and kept a close eye on the Patriots during their run to the state semifinals this season.
“To see those guys be successful is awesome,” said Hanback during Friday’s press conference. “I went through a stint at Patrick Henry where we had three losing seasons, my last one we went to the playoffs, but to see those guys make it that far is awesome.”
Fast forward and Hanback have come a long way since his days at Patrick Henry. His 52 games played mark a UVA record, and he helped turn around a program that went 2-10 during his first season. On Monday, the former Patriot takes the field in one of the biggest bowl games in college football.
“It’s been a long journey and it’s become a lot more focused on one role and being good at that one role and helping my team,” noted Hanback, who used to play both offense and defense in high school.
“He wasn’t the most highly recruited guy or sought after guy,” added Cavaliers’ defensive coordinator Nick Howell. “We see people on the road all the time that knew Eli, and I’m talking coaches on other teams, who are just blown away at what Eli has done and the type of player he’s become.”
Hanback has been a UVA fan his entire life, and perhaps his biggest career highlight helped the Wahoos end their 15-year skid against Virginia Tech. After Mandy Alonso’s sack of Hendon Hooker forced a fumble, the former Patriot fell on the ball for a touchdown, sealing the win for Virginia.
“I’ll remember that for the rest of my life, growing up a UVA fan,” smiled Hanback. “Being able to jump on the ball and get a touchdown and inevitably put the nail in the coffin on that streak, now that that’s over, that will mean the world to me for the rest of my life.”
Now he has one more opportunity to wear the orange a blue, and chance to help the Cavaliers raise the bar even higher.
“To win on this stage against a very good opponent at one of the best bowls in bowl history would be a huge step for this program and, for myself, it would be an amazing cap to my UVA career.”
Hanback and UVA face Florida in the Orange Bowl on Monday night. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m.
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