Based on matchups and power rankings, Bronco Mendenhall’s feel-good-story University of Virginia football team could be toast when it faces second-ranked Miami on the road this Saturday.
Here’s one certainty: The Cavaliers’ locker room at Hard Rock Stadium will smell like toast.
Seriously. Like toast. Real toast. As in crispy, warm bread with melted butter and jelly, maybe cinnamon sugar. Or dry.
Thanks to a new tradition Mendenhall's team cooked up, toast is definitely involved.
In an effort to always make his players feel at home, the former BYU coach and his Virginia staff make sure there’s a toaster in the team’s locker room — whether they’re in Charlottesville or southern Florida or wherever.
This pregame toast-eating ritual became a thing this spring when Mendenhall decided to have his team practice at Scott Stadium instead of in their $13 million indoor practice facility. The second-year Virginia coach wanted his players to become more comfortable with their own turf after they struggled to a 1-5 home record in his first season with the ’Hoos.
“Because really what we remembered is that people don’t come to play us in our indoor facility,” Mendenhall recently explained during his weekly coaches show with Virginia play-by-play announcer Dave Koehn. “We actually play at Scott Stadium and so, we were really comfortable at our practice facility, but we weren’t very comfortable playing the game in our stadium. So, we moved the team there.”
“We realized something was missing,” Mendenhall said.
Virginia’s stadium, it turns out, did not have an adequate comfort-inducing aroma.
“The players can tell you about this,” he said, “but it didn’t smell like home.”
They needed some home cooking.
Mendenhall doesn’t remember the particulars, but somebody on the team proposed a toast — one that requires toasters, not champagne glasses, mind you.
"While Virginia Tech has its lunch pail and Tennessee has its traveling trash can (what a terrible idea), Virginia has its toaster," 247sports.com pointed out.
It’s now a custom Virginia digs its teeth into every game day, making every locker room smell and taste like home.
“So now, our locker room smells like toast and when it smells like toast, we know we’re home,” Mendenhall said. “It’s kind of been symbolic. Not that I don’t love my home — my family’s here; I love that home — but this is kind of my second home, and toast is the link to that.
“That might not make sense to anyone listening, other than my players that are here, but it makes sense to us.”
Nobody in Virginia will argue with the results.
Not to butter Bronco up too much, but Mendenhall has become — sorry, not sorry — the toast of the town while helping the 6-4 Cavaliers become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.
In part thanks to some home cooking.
"It’s hard to eat breakfast unless you’re home," Mendenhall told The Virginia-Pilot, "and it smells like toast when you walk into our locker room, which helps you know you’re home."
No word yet on what happens if someone burns the toast in the locker room.
By the way, Virginia has gone 4-2 at home this season and is 2-2 with its traveling toaster.
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