CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Three University of Virginia football players killed in an on-campus shooting were remembered Monday by their head coach as “incredible young men with huge aspirations and extremely bright futures.”
Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry were juniors returning to campus from a class trip to see a play Sunday night when authorities say they were killed by a fellow student.
The young men were journeying through various periods of transition in their sports careers. Davis was bouncing back from a season-ending injury. Perry had recently changed positions. And Chandler had transferred in from Wisconsin.
“They touched us, inspired us and worked incredibly hard,” head football coach Tony Elliott said in a statement.
Their absence was already being felt on campus, prompting American studies professor Jack Hamilton to tweet Monday that he was “just stunned and devastated and completely at a loss.”
Hamilton had Chandler and Davis as students.
“In my experience, star athletes often tend to hang out with other athletes (understandable, given the time commitment),” Hamilton wrote. “But (Davis) seemed to go out of his way to make friends with non-athletes.”
As the tragedy reverberated throughout the campus Monday, the head football coach was seen sitting alone at a table outside the university’s football offices, his head in his hands.
“They were all good kids,” Elliott said before getting into an SUV with several other coaches.
A couple hours later, teammate Aaron Faumui spoke briefly through tears.
“I don’t even know what to say right now,” said the college senior who plays defensive tackle. “I just want to say they were three young great men.”
The grief was felt widely, penetrating football programs across the country — in part because college athletes can move around more with the easing of transfer restrictions. Players from Wisconsin to Utah and Washington state mourned because they had played at Virginia.
“Can’t put into words the physical and mental pain that comes with losing not just teammates, but brothers,” tweeted Wayne Taulapapa, a running back who transferred from Virginia to the University of Washington. “You were never just football players, but rather examples of great and honorable young men.”
LAVEL DAVIS JR.
On Monday morning, Lavel Davis Sr. posted a message on Facebook: “Lord please help me.”
Davis was a 6-foot-7 wide receiver from Dorchester, South Carolina. His major was undecided in the College of Arts and Sciences. Davis finished the 2020 season ranked No. 2 in the nation and No. 1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for average yards per reception, among many other accolades.
An undisclosed injury sidelined Davis for the 2021 season but he returned this year, starting six of the first seven games. In the season opener against the University of Richmond, Davis caught four passes for 89 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. He was on a watch list for 2022 Comeback Player of the Year.
Herman Moore, who developed a friendship with Davis as an alumni-mentor, said Davis was hoping to finish his college career on a high note after bouncing back from his injury.
Davis had aspirations for the NFL, Moore said. But he was also thinking about life beyond sports, perhaps in business. The future, however, was yet to be decided.
“He wanted to be recognized as the best receiver in the nation,” Moore said. “And he felt he had all the tools and the athleticism to get it done.”
Chandler was a wide receiver from Huntersville, North Carolina, who was known for always smiling and always dancing. He recently transferred from Wisconsin. His major at Virginia was undecided in the College of Arts and Sciences. Chandler's accomplishments for the Badgers included a 59-yard kickoff return and 18-yard rush in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against Wake Forest in 2020.
Hamilton, the American studies professor, said on Twitter that Chandler had been in one of his large lecture classes.
“He nevertheless made a point to come to my office hours repeatedly, often just to ask questions about how things worked around UVA,” Hamilton wrote.
The professor later helped Chandler to declare his major in American studies.
“He was an unbelievably nice person, always a huge smile, really gregarious and funny,” Hamilton wrote. “One of those people who’s just impossible not to like.”
Ethan Johnson, who knew Chandler since high school, said he "was a fun guy to be around. He was always dancing. Always dancing.”
Johnson is two years younger than Chandler. But they spent a season together on the high school football team, with Johnson covering Chandler as a cornerback every day during practice. This past summer, the young men worked out together at their former high school.
“And he was there telling me how much of a difference he saw in me. How much I had grown. How I had improved as a player,” said Johnson, who is now a freshman cornerback at Appalachian State. "That was the type of guy he was. He was always trying to lift people up. ... That was also the last time I saw him.”
Jim Leonhard, the University of Wisconsin’s interim head football coach, tweeted Monday that Chandler "had a lasting impact on his teammates, even after he left UW, which is a testament to the type of person he was.”
“His personality was infectious and he was a joy to be around," Leonhard said. "Our team is hurting for him and his family.”
Perry was a linebacker from Miami. His major was studio art. In September, Perry told the Daily Progress he was called to the Cavaliers’ football offices. Linebackers coach Clint Sintim said he needed Perry to move from linebacker to defensive end.
Perry told the newspaper it was “no problem at all. It was a smooth transition.”
“Honestly, I feel like I can do both (linebacker and defensive end),” Perry said. “And I prepared myself well to work in space and pass rush during the offseason. … So, both positions I’m very comfortable with and I’m just trying to help the team win.”
Perry appeared in seven games this year and made seven tackles.
Michael Haggard, an attorney for Perry’s parents, issued a statement thanking the South Florida and the Charlottesville communities for “the outpouring of support during this impossibly tragic time."
“Right now, Happy and Sean will not speak publicly about the incident as their grief is only beginning, and out of respect for the University of Virginia community which has been terrorized by another mass shooting in the United States,” the statement said.
Mike Hollins, a running back on the football team who was also shot, was in stable condition Monday, his mother Brenda Hollins told The Associated Press.
“Mike is a fighter — and he’s showing it,” she said after flying to Virginia from Louisiana. “We have great doctors who have been working with him. And most importantly, we have God’s grace and God’s hands on him.”
Like most college football players, Hollins has aspirations to play professionally, his mother said. But he has other dreams and goals, which include being an educator.
“We’re praying for the other families,” she said.
Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York and sports writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.