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Virginia’s Mike Hollins Wins 2023 Orange Bowl Courage Award

Virginia graduate student running back Mike Hollins was named the 22nd annual recipient of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the Orange Bowl announced on Wednesday.

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2023 Brian Piccolo Award winner, Hollins survived the 2022 shootings that took the lives of three of his Virginia teammates. He returned this fall to play in 11 games for the Cavaliers, leading the team in rushing touchdowns.

“It meant a lot to me,” Hollins said of playing this season. “I feel like all season it meant a little bit more to me than it did for everyone else. And it wasn’t really the wins or losses that really mattered. It was the effort and knowing what you were playing for. If the effort wasn’t there, or if you didn’t know what you were playing for, I didn’t care if we won or if we lost. This year was just about will — showing your will, showing your will to compete, to win. Because it’s clearer than ever that football is so much bigger than us. Our impact is so much bigger and we just have a lot more to play for.

“So that was just on my mind all year, every day, and obviously I had a spotlight on me that I didn’t ask for. But through my faith I was able to carry it, through my teammates, I was able to carry it, and through those parents that lost their sons I was also able to carry it.”

On Nov. 13, 2022, Virginia players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry were shot and killed after returning to school from a class field trip. Hollins was shot when he returned to the bus to try and help his teammates and other students, suffering two gunshot wounds to the back. Hollins managed to flee to a nearby parking garage, but fearing he may not be found there when aid workers arrived, he went back to the bus area to await responders. Despite being involved in a horrendous shooting that also injured another UVA student, Hollins vowed to return to his team and play his final season at Virginia.

“Mike displayed tremendous courage the night he returned to the bus to help his teammates and the other students on that field trip,” said Virginia head coach Tony Elliott. “That type of action speaks to who he is and his beliefs. But that’s courage in a flash. The road back to playing football this year took a different type of courage. He had to overcome physical and mental obstacles, he had to cope with the loss of his teammates and he had to perform knowing there were a lot of eyes on him. That was a remarkable accomplishment and I still marvel at how he did it, and more importantly, the way he did it.”

“Mike was more deliberate as a leader for our team this season,” Elliott said. “It meant a lot for him to honor his fallen teammates by the way our team responded and carried itself this year and he guided us by example. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of Mike and how fortunate we are to have him as part of the Virginia program. He is a young man who will blaze an incredible path during his life. He has already started by making those around us better thanks to his inspiration.”

Hollins was admitted to the hospital in critical condition the same night after the two bullets narrowly missed his spine and created numerous injuries to his abdominal organs. He underwent two surgeries over the next few days to address those injuries and spent a week in the intensive care unit. His recovery required eight weeks of inactivity to allow for healing. He returned to limited physical activity in mid-January, with the goals of increasing his fitness and regaining core stability. Hollins was able to participate in 2023 spring football on a limited basis and returned to unrestricted activity during summer conditioning.

The Week 1 recipient of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, Hollins carried the team flag onto the field in the season opener against Tennessee in Nashville. In the team’s home opener the next week, Hollins carried a “UVA Strong” flag on the field before rushing for two touchdowns in the game against James Madison. On the day before the game, Hollins and the Virginia program gathered on the Grounds for a ceremonial tree planting and plaque dedication near the site of the shooting to honor Chandler, Davis Jr. and Perry.

This season, he returned to play in 11 of 12 games for the Cavaliers. As part of a three-man rotation at running back, he recorded 80 carries for 274 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns on the ground. He also had 10 receptions for 34 yards and one touchdown catch. Throughout the season, Hollins served as UVA’s primary third-down back for short yardage and also for pass protection packages.

Source: ACC