New 'Break the Rock' tradition at UVA instills new sense of pride in program

The Cavaliers started the new tradition in 2018


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – "It's a simple tradition but it means a lot to these guys and how hard they work and how much work they put into it."

"Breaking the rock is like a stepping stone, you know."

"When Gris first brought out breaking the rock, we thought that's actually kind of cool."

No, it's not the Master's but it certainly is a tradition unlike any other. Breaking the Rock has become a staple for the Virginia Cavaliers since the start of the 2018 season, becoming part of what they call the "New Standard". 

"The urgency is increased but it is our fourth year. We have returning players and a returning quarterback and that doesn't guarantee success," said Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

But success is what the Cavaliers have had, sitting at 4-0 for the first time in 15 years and the newest tradition of Breaking the Rock has played a huge role in that. It all started when Shawn Griswold, the director of football development and performance, joined the UVA staff last season.

"We were doing it at Tulsa when I was there and then I took it from there to Arizona State. We did it those 6 years I was there too and it kind of grew legs and each year it grew more and more with the kids and the development of the program," said Griswold.

"I think it signifies that kids are very visual and it gives them something to look at and signifies who we are -- blue collar is who we are. An earned not given program. Not only do they break it but they all grab a piece of it so it becomes who they are," Griswold added.

The program has a rock made for each game scheduled this season. Whether they break each one is dependent upon the team getting a win. Griswold gave us a breakdown of the 20 pound rock, which is actually a patio paver underneath the black paint and stencil work. But what the rock is made up of symbolizes so much more. 

"Each one of these rocks is built with a grain of sand right? So that grain of sand makes the rock, so each grain of sand is our kid right? And our kid makes the rock, the team. So there's a lot more to it, that it symbolizes other than a simple rock and that's part of it," said Griswold.

Even the way the rocks are stacked is important, signifying the goal of chipping away and moving a mountain to achieve their goals, while providing the ultimate motivation. 

"Everyone wants to say the sky's the limit but no we're punching through the sky, we're going through all of our barriers and we're going to accomplish what we haven't accomplished before. And that's what that rock symbolizes for us. All of our hard work is paying off," said Cavaliers offensive tackle Ryan Nelson. 

"It gives everybody that great vibe and adrenaline, like when we accomplish something hard, going through the hard struggles with the team, we get to break that rock and move on to the next challenge," said Cavaliers defensive back Darrius Bratton. 

"We just all bought into it, you know, when you get the sledgehammer and break the rock it's hype. We all love it," said Cavaliers defensive end Richard Burney.

In the first year of the tradition, UVA was able to Break the Rock eight times, capping the season with a blowout win in the Belk Bowl over South Carolina. 

They've done so four times already in 2019 and aim to do it again against Notre Dame. As for Griswold, he's had a Break the Rock moment against Notre Dame twice.

"I beat them once when I was at Tulsa at their place and then I did it at Arizona State at our place, so I'm looking for another one," said Griswold.

"Everybody's striving to be the best player that game, and wants to really Break the Rock," said cornerback Nick Grant. 

"Breaking the Rock after every game is just a surreal feeling just because we share that comaraderie with your teammates you know; recognize we all do something hard together," Burney said. 

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