It’s always special whenever a college football player can finish the season playing in a bowl game near or at his hometown. Such is the case for Virginia defensive end Mandy Alonso, who returns to Miami to take on the Florida Gators in the Orange Bowl.
“I feel like I’m back at home,” said Alonso, who also mentioned that he got to see his family upon arriving from Virginia. “It’s amazing because I grew up watching the Orange Bowl every year. For it to be such a big bowl game and like my friends and family being able to come out because I got a bunch of tickets, it’s just really special.”
Alonso played defensive tackle, offensive line and long snapper at Gulliver Prep for head coach Earl Sims, who also played at Virginia from 1998-2001 as a linebacker. He was named first-team All-Dade County in 2016 after collecting 52 tackles, nine sacks and eight fumbles as a senior.
Alonso came to Virginia as a three-star recruit despite the Cavaliers coming off of a 2-10 season in 2016. Since his arrival, UVA has played in a bowl game in each of his three years.
Hard Rock Stadium is a special place for Alonso. He got his first career sack during his freshman year against the Miami Hurricanes in 2017 and got another one this year. His Cavaliers lost both matchups but there’s hope that his luck changes against Florida. Virginia is a win away from finishing the season with 10 wins for the first time since 1989.
“It would mean the world for everybody because like just coming from 2-10 a few years ago, this is a huge jump,” Alonso said. “To be on such a big-time bowl game that this stage is like set perfectly for us to rebuild this program.”
The Cavaliers haven’t played a game in over 20 days. Their previous game resulted in a 62-17 drubbing by No. 3 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Such a layoff could result in over preparation which is a concern with both teams leading up to bowl games.
“You could get like — more like you’ll be tired of watching it, like you’ve got to take like a break,” Alonso said. “But I guess we’ve had so much time that we’ve got to like space it out and like we haven’t been like, oh, my God, I don’t want to watch film. We’ve been locked in. Coach talks about flipping the switch from bowl game and then like game time.”
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall is preached “unbroken growth” all season long. The question after Monday’s game is whether that holds true after the result.
“Like in the big picture, in the game, if we lose, it’ll be sad, but we got to the Orange Bowl,” Alonso said. “It’s still a big accomplishment, but we don’t want to settle for just that accomplishment, just being here. We want to go win it.”