Virginia RB Mike Hollins returns to football practice after surviving shooting

Virginia Cavaliers running back Mike Hollins made his return to the practice field on Tuesday after surviving a November shooting that killed three of his teammates. On the first day of spring practice, the fifth year senior participated in drills and made a downfield catch.

Four months ago, he was shot in the back and underwent two surgeries. He was taken off a ventilator four days after the shooting and was soon walking.

Head coach Tony Elliott told the media after practice that his veteran is “full-go” and expressed how proud he is of Hollins’ recovery and strength.

“I’ve been so impressed with him, just all the way around physically how his body has recovered, but more importantly just how spiritually, mentally he’s responded and prepared himself to get back out here and compete,” he said. “So I’m really, really proud of how he’s progressed.”

Elliott continued that that the coaching staff knows what Hollins is capable of and will incorporate him back into playing form one step at a time.

“We’ll be smart as well as we transition him into some of the full contact stuff ’cause want to be mindful of where his body is and let him kinda go at his pace,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s played a lot of football, so it’s not something where we have to throw him right into the fire to figure out what he can do. I want to do what’s best for him, mind, body and spirit.”

Elliott also praised Hollins’ mentality to commit to coming back and supporting his teammates.

“To watch how he’s attacked everything, could have easily made excuses, could easily have overthought things, but man, he’s taken it upon himself to respond and show perseverance and be resilient,” he said. “I think a lot of it is for himself, but a majority of it is for his teammates. So just to see him because there was a time we didn’t know if he’d ever have a chance to play football again.

“… I’m just grateful to be on the grass, grateful to have an opportunity to be here at the University of Virginia, lead this program, lead these young men, all the guys that decided to come back and pick up the pieces and turn this tragedy into a triumph. So it’s really a blessing for me to see all these guys running around, but in particular, so happy for Mike because we all know as a football player that your time’s going to come to an end, you definitely wouldn’t want it to come to an end in that fashion, so to see him have another opportunity just to go out on his own terms makes it really special.”

Hollins spoke in December on how the shooting impacted him.

“I’ve never been as vulnerable or emotional, but now it’s like, I don’t really care, I can’t control it,” he said on “Good Morning America.” “I’m not afraid to tell my friends and my teammates ‘I love you’ and ‘Looking forward to seeing you again,’ and really meaning it now.”

How the Virginia football team is paying tribute to teammates

Wide receivers Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler and linebacker D’Sean Perry were the players killed in November when a former player opened fire on a charter bus after a school field trip to Washington, D.C. The team will pay tribute to them throughout the season, including patches on their jerseys. Kicker Will Bettridge will wear No. 41, which was Perry’s number. They were high school teammates and Perry’s family agreed it was a proper way to carry on his legacy.

“I just thought it was fitting, at least for this next year coming up for him to be the first person to wear it,” Elliott said. “Really want to make it meaningful and have some type of relationship and connection to the guys that wear those numbers in the future.”

The team canceled its last two games of the season after the shooting, so, besides winter drills, this was the first time they were all practicing together since then.

The coach said that it was a “really, really good first day” and he was “really, really just grateful to be on the grass.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Hollins returns to Virginia football practice after shooting

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