Football at Home: UVa Cornerback Heskin Smith Jr.’s Life During a Pandemic

When University of Virginia President Ryan sent out an email saying that classes would be switched online until at least April 5th, Heskin Smith Jr. got nervous. He was in California enjoying Spring Break, worlds away from Charlottesville and day to day life. Ryan’s email was quickly followed by an email from Athletics Director Carla Williams saying that players would be able to return to Charlottesville to practice, but the choice would be optional. He and his teammates began making plans to go back to Grounds. “The season’s coming up soon,” said Smith. “We still want to make a name for ourselves and the program.” 

Then the ACC Championship got canceled.

Then March Madness.

Then Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall sent an email to the team strongly encouraging them to stay home, suspending practice in Charlottesville until further notice.

And then, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring sports.

It was clear Smith was heading back to Brunswick, GA.


The canceling of Spring sports meant the cancellation of Spring Football, which was set to start about a week after Spring Break. Smith said of the cancellation, “A lot of us were expecting to play [Spring Football] because a lot of us sat out due to injury throughout the [2019] season… That was just kinda harsh for us.”

Despite the disappointments, Smith is working hard from his hometown of Brunswick, GA. His daily life at home is vastly different from what it was in Charlottesville. In Charlottesville, his days were structured and filled with workouts, mentor meetings, academic meetings, class, homework, and watching film. Now, his days have a bit more flexibility. Monday-Thursday he has Zoom positioning meetings around 8 in the morning with Defensive Coordinator Nick Howell. Instead of being able to walk through the plays on the practice field, he now sits in bed and tries to visualize what Coach Howell is saying.

“Now that we’re behind a screen he [Coach Howell] can only tell us what to do, and we have to, like, picture it in our head with the walk-through type thing,” said Smith.

 After that, he logs into class, does his homework, watches lots of film, and staggers workouts and stretching sessions throughout his day. He doesn’t want to risk pulling a muscle once he does get back to practice, so he is prioritizing staying limber and stretching as much as possible. The football team’s strength and conditioning coaches sent the team home with packets of at-home workouts to keep them busy until they are able to return to Grounds as well. 

Smith says he does like being home. He feels like he is able to focus on multiple things at once: school, football, time with family and friends, and resting his body; whereas at school he focused on football and everything else could tend to take a back seat. 

“I have a lot of time to do school and a lot of time to do football,” said Smith. “That’s the positive part of it.”

Staying positive is Smith’s main objective right now. He is focusing on watching film as much as he can, even more so than he does at school. Even though he’s not physically in practice, he is mentally and can learn quite a bit from watching film. He tries not to think about their 2020 season getting postponed or canceled, especially at this point in their journey. 

“They [the coaches] want to keep our high hopes, knowing that there’s gonna be a season and everything is gonna be positive,” said Smith.

Right now, he and his teammates are working as hard as they can from where they are. But once they’re cleared to come back, they’re ready and hungry for the season that lies ahead. 

“Ready to get back to work?” I asked Smith.

“Right,” he said with a chuckle, “Ready to get back to work.”


Photo courtesy of Jim Daves.


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