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'UVa Strong': Tributes to fallen football players planned for home opener against JMU

The field at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville is sporting some fresh paint ahead of the University of Virginia’s home opener Saturday against James Madison University, a tribute to the three Cavaliers football players gunned down last November.

It’s part of a series of tributes UVa has planned for before, during and after the game, which more than 50,000 are expected to attend. The theme of those tributes is a callback to the signs, hashtags and memorials left in the immediate wake of the Nov. 13 shooting that took the lives of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry: “UVa Strong.”

“We promised the family members that we would never forget their loved ones, and we will keep that promise,” Carla Williams, Cavalier athletics director, told media at a press conference on Tuesday.

As part of that promise, UVa has decorated Harrison Field with “commemorative markings” that will stand throughout the 2023 season.

The names of Chandler, Davis and Perry now surround the boundary of the field, and at the north end zone in Cavalier orange and blue are those words, “UVa Strong,” with the three deceased players’ numbers listed below: 1, 15 and 41.

Players on the field Saturday will also carry a visible legacy, as second-year UVa coach Tony Elliott put it, of their fallen teammates. The players wearing Nos. 1, 15 and 41 will carry “legacy patches” incorporating the UVa V-sabre logo, the seasons Chandler, Davis and Perry played at the school, their names and their numbers.

“For me it was about being able to honor them every time we step on the field,” Elliott said last week when the new patches were unveiled. “One thing I wanted from us as a program is to make sure their legacies are visible every time we step on the field. That was the motivation.”

All Cavaliers on the field Saturday will also be wearing commemorative decals on their helmets.

Williams delivered a special thanks to those players on Tuesday, acknowledging how much they have been through over the past 10 months.

“We love your fight, your determination and your resilience,” Williams said. “We love you because, despite the adversity, you refuse to quit. The life lessons you are learning in these moments will carry you further than you could have ever imagined.”

The tributes to the fallen don’t start and end on the field.

Previous physical memorials to Chandler, Davis and Perry have already included:

Helmet decals incorporating an orange ribbon over a blue silhouette of the commonwealth worn by Virginia state college teams last year.An art exhibit, “In memoriam,” at Ruffin Hall featuring a 3D model of a self-portrait of Perry.A stretch of U.S. Route 78 in Davis’ home state of South Carolina renamed Lavel “Tyler” Norman Davis Jr. Memorial Highway.Vigils held across Grounds in the days after the shooting.A memorial to Chandler, Davis and Perry at John Paul Jones Arena that attracted thousands.And a letter left at the feet of the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Lawn on Jefferson’s 280th birthday asking students to remember Davis’ words, “When I leave here, I just want to say, I was a part of the change, and I took a step forward, changing everything in the right direction.”

And the list won’t stop there.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, UVa planted a “memorial tree” on the school’s Arts Grounds honoring the fallen players.

“UVA has a long-standing tradition of planting commemorative trees to recognize members of the community who have contributed to U.Va. in significant ways,” UVa spokeswoman Bethanie Glover told The Daily Progress via email.

The tree will spread its roots through Arts Grounds on Culbreth Road, an area specifically selected because of its “proximity to the location of the Nov. 13, 2022 tragedy,” Glover said.

The tragedy unfolded on the night of Nov. 13 as Chandler, Davis and Perry were returning to Grounds from a field trip to Washington, D.C., to see “The Ballad of Emmett Till.”

The trio were on a chartered bus with their schoolmates.

One of those schoolmates was Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., who had previously played on the football team himself.

According to witnesses on board the bus, Jones gave no warning other than a cryptic reference to a video game before pulling a gun out and shooting.

Chandler, Davis and Perry were shot and killed. Two others were injured: Marlee Morgan and Michael Hollins.

Jones, who fled the scene, was arrested the next day after an extensive manhunt.

He now faces 10 felony charges, including three counts of second-degree murder, in Albemarle County court.

Jones made his first appearance in eight months on Aug. 21, waiving a preliminary hearing.

Since November, UVa has faced criticism after officials acknowledged that they had been previously alerted by a roommate that Jones kept a gun in his dormitory and that they only later learned Jones had failed to disclose a prior criminal conviction for carrying a concealed weapon.

A police search warrant inventory obtained by The Daily Progress shows that officers seized a pistol, a semi-automatic rifle, ammunition and a device designed to multiply trigger pulls inside Jones’ Brandon Avenue residence hall.

The commonwealth has hired lawyers from global law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to conduct an independent investigation of the shooting. Those close to the matter have told The Daily Progress that investigation’s conclusions may be available as soon as late summer or early fall.

Saturday’s game against JMU also marks the 500th played at Scott Stadium, but that will not be the focus of the day, according to UVa athletics spokesman Jim Daves.

“We are aware of the 500th game anniversary and have included that in information leading up to the start of the season, but our emphasis this week is on the remembers of the players,” Daves told The Daily Progress in an email.


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