How Bronco Mendenhall will remember Virginia players killed in shootings

D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler’s impact on the Virginia football community and the people they interacted with extended far beyond the field.

That was the message from several of their former coaches after the three University of Virginia football players were killed and two other students injured in a campus shootout late Sunday night.

Former BYU and Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall devoted the entire latest episode of his HeadCoachU podcast to discussing Perry, Davis and Chandler and recalling the interactions they had with others.

He was joined by a number of former assistants who knew the trio from their time together in Virginia – a group rich in Utah connections, including Kelly Poppinga, Garett Tujague, Mark Atuaia, Nick Howell, Justin Anderson and Matthew Edwards.

Perry, Chandler and Davis were shot and killed by the suspected gunman, former Virginia football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., after he returned from a field trip to Washington, D.C., ESPN reported.

Two other students, Virginia running back Mike Collins and Marlee Morgan, were also shot, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Mendenhall, who stepped down as Virginia coach last season after six years, knew all three players. He had recruited all three, and Davis and Perry both played in Virginia for the Utah native. Chandler moved from Wisconsin to Virginia this year.

A few poignant stories stood out from the hour-long podcast, many of which revolved around family.

“I’m confident that this can be a powerful testament and memorial to their families that they will be able to move forward and hopefully another positive thing that reflects the impact these children have had,” Mendenhall said.


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FILE – Virginia linebacker D’Sean Perry runs on the field during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Syracuse on September 23, 2022 in Syracuse, NY September 23, 2022 in Charlottesville, Virginia while returning from a school trip, to see a play.

Adrian Kraus, Associated Press

In memory of D’Sean Perry

Poppinga, the former BYU linebacker who coached at BYU and Virginia before ending this season at Boise State, Perry recruited and coached the linebacker from Miami during his first three collegiate seasons.

“D’Sean had the purest heart. That’s what always struck me about D’Sean. He was very open to everything,” said Poppinga. “…I remember the first time we had him over our house my wife said, ‘He’s the cutest kid.’ ”

Perry’s desire to keep improving was praised by his coaches.

“That’s just what he was, always trying, always working hard, never complaining and just being a team guy,” said Howell, the former BYU defense coordinator under Mendenhall, who held the same position at Virginia and is now at Vanderbilt . “That’s what strikes me when I think about D’Sean and[I’m]just grateful for his example of hard work and humility.”

Tujague, who played and coached at BYU and is in his seventh season as Virginia’s offensive line coach, saw Perry’s thirst for knowledge from across the huddle and called him “a young man who just embraces the grind.”

“He was a big inspiration to me because he always came to me after training and asked me, ‘What can I do better?’ I would, I can’t tell you what better way to do this to my boys. I’ll tell you after we’re out of fall camp or spring ball, but he always wanted to improve,” Tujague said.

As Poppinga told his family (he and his wife have four daughters) about the shooting, one of his children shared the memory she will take away from Perry – of him playing the piano during visits to the family home.

“I don’t think D’Sean could read music, he just played it by ear. He just got on the piano and started rolling and (she) sat right next to him and he just started playing. That’s what she said the other night, I remember D’Sean playing the piano and how that brought me peace,” Poppinga said.


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FILE – Virginia’s Lavel Davis Jr. (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in an NCAA college football game against Richmond on September 3, 2022 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Davis was one of three Virginia football players killed in a shooting Sunday. November 13, 2022 in Charlottesville, Virginia while returning from a school trip to see a play.

Mike Kropf/The Daily Progress via AP

In memory of Lavel Davis Jr.

Mendenhall remembered the 6-foot-7 Davis, a wide receiver from Dorchester, South Carolina, as someone “very thoughtful and introspective and humble and unique and real and genuine and thoughtful and really selfless,” he told CBS Sports.

Edwards, a former BYU tight end who spent time as analytical director for Mendenhall in Virginia, shared a connection with Davis that dates back to his grandfather, former BYU Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards.

Edwards’ son Luke also has the middle name LaVell in honor of his great-grandfather.

“When I told[my son]that we had a player named Lavel, he looked at me and said, ‘Oh, he’s part of the LaVell family,'” Edwards said.

“Whenever he came to practice … Lavel always made[my son]feel special. When I told Lavel that Luke said he was part of the LaVell family, it meant a lot to him. Not only was that a funny thing, he really cared about the people he was with.”

Tujague’s son, Carson Tujague, revealed another story that showed just how considerate Davis was.

The younger Tujague played a defensive end in high school and has committed to joining the BYU program as a preferred walk-on after serving at the church for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Botswana-Namibia-Africa Mission.

The elder Tujague shared in one of the most emotional segments of the podcast that after his son learned of the tragedy, he called his father and insisted he speak to him about Davis.

Unbeknownst to his father, Davis had worked with Carson Tujague to improve his catching skills, “cheering and motivating” him, in the words of father Garett.

“For the past 18 months, Lavel has met him almost every night to take him to the pitcher machine, teach him how to catch a ball and teach him the right way,” Garett Tujague said.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, those catches I slung over my shoulder Friday night, that’s because of Lavel.’ I did not know that. I knew my son was down there, I knew my son was training. I knew Coach Howell had put him on a crazy tackling drill on the popsicle sled. I had no idea he was down there with Lavel,” the coach said.

It was a poignant reminder of the kind of bonds these players can develop not only with teammates but also with those around their programs.

“Our kids grow up and they see these guys and they look up to them. They’re like idols,” Tujague said. “The fact that they would take the time out of their day – their school, their demands on us – and teach our kids their craft, pass it on…”

“Every time Carson catches a ball from today, he’ll remember Lavel.”


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FILE – Wisconsin wide receiver Devin Chandler runs onto the field during an NCAA college football game against Iowa December 12, 2020 in Iowa City, Iowa. Chandler, who transferred to the University of Virginia, was one of three Virginia football players killed in a shooting on Sunday, November 13, 2022, in Charlottesville, Virginia while returning from a school trip to see a play to watch.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

In memory of Devin Chandler

Mendenhall never had the opportunity to coach Chandler, a wide receiver from Huntersville, North Carolina. Chandler first landed in Wisconsin before moving to Virginia that season, though Mendenhall met him through the recruiting process.

“He was sitting on a porch looking at our property and choosing between us and Wisconsin,” Mendenhall told CBS Sports. “When he made his decision to go to Wisconsin, all I had was this thought…this wasn’t going to be over.”

One thing Chandler really noticed? His smile.

“His smile immediately lights up the room,” Mendenhall told CBS Sports. “Larger than life. His liveliness of spirit and facial expression draws people to him.”

It also had an impact on Anderson, BYU’s former receiver, who was director of player personnel in Virginia under Mendenhall and is now back at BYU in the same position.

“When he got into the transfer portal I was like, oh man, I remember me (Virginia receiver coach Marques) telling Hagans, man, we gotta get this guy back here. He’s the one. He’s a fantastic player,” Anderson said.

“He had a smile that was quite contagious. When we first met him he seemed quite calm at first, but he had an infectious smile.”

Drew Meyer, who is still a special teams analyst in the Virginia program and served under Mendenhall, joined the podcast and recalled a time during a scrimmage when Chandler returned a kickoff for a touchdown and his excitement energized his teammates.

“Devin slides into the end zone – he’s got his arms up, his legs outstretched. He talks well,” Meyer said.

“…He was always a guy who smiled, danced, and tried to pick up guys.”


Honoring fallen players

During the podcast, Atuaia, a former BYU running back and assistant coach, said several former Virginia assistants will wear Virginia gear during their respective teams’ games this weekend to honor the three fallen players.

“We will represent these young men in the current institutions that we serve and let them know that we have not forgotten them, that we love and care for them and that all this time we have been building and all the relationships that we’ve built, they don’t just go because we left,” said Atuaia, who is now in Washington state.

“So often something symbolic reinforces a feeling. You can’t say that when these kids see their former coaches at different institutions, they’re wearing their mark, that it won’t have any effect. It’s an amazing gesture and I appreciate this example,” Mendenhall said.



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