FILE - In a Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 file photo, Virginia's Andrew Brown (9) holds the ball aloft after a fumble recovery against Connecticut in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, in East Hartf
Bill Sikes, File
November 01, 2016

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) The highly touted defensive recruit that arrived at Virginia three years ago and the dispirited Andrew Brown that coach Bronco Mendenhall encountered last December had very little in common.

Brown, a five-star recruit and Gatorade national player of the year, had lost his way.

He had quickly found his way into then-defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's doghouse once he got on campus. Brown didn't put in the work needed to be successful in college and even when he adjusted his work ethic, his chances to make an impression were fleeting.

With a second chance to shine, the new and improved Brown is thriving under Mendenhall. Brown is doing so well that Mendenhall gets emotional when talking about the journey of such a talented recruit with the potential to be an impact player in the program.

''That's kind of a tender spot for me.'' the Cavaliers' first-year coach said this week of Brown. ''He's maturing, and he's trying really hard. He's transforming kind of right before our eyes into a more mature, more capable, more trustworthy, more responsible person and player all at the same time. And he's enjoying it.''

Brown is one of several reasons for optimism at Virginia despite its disappointing record.

The Cavaliers (2-6, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at Wake Forest (5-3, 2-2) on Saturday.

The soft-spoken Brown is second among the Cavaliers with 7 1/2 tackles for a loss this season, and got his fourth sack last weekend when the Cavaliers came within an eyelash of beating No. 5 Louisville .

With one more year ahead of him, he's eager to see what the future holds.

''I don't have a whole lot of mileage on my body, so it's a plus,'' he said. ''... I was blessed with the opportunity to have a lot more snaps than I played my previous two years. So looking back, it humbles me and pushes me to drive forward because if it wasn't for the new coaching staff, I would probably be in the same position.''

Mendenhall, meanwhile, acknowledges that Brown has been a challenging player to coach.

''There have been times where I've told him, `less drama, more work,''' he said. ''I probably said it maybe to him more frequently than any other player at the beginning of our time here as he was in a pretty fragile spot, and I can't speak to that. I'm just saying what I saw when I arrived. ... Still on given plays, he'll do things where I'm wondering where he's going and what's he doing. But now, more often, he's doing it how he's supposed to do it.''

Brown feels like he has a duty to be there for his team, and he regrets not being able to be on the field after the first play of the Cardinals' game-winning drive. Instead, he was nursing a cramp, and watching.

''I knew my team needed me and I needed to be in there,'' he said. ''But at the end of the day, I've got to control what I can control and at that point in time, I couldn't control that I was cramping up. So I'll do what I can do this week, just prepare and treat my body better than I did the week previously and come ready to play.''

Virginia has four games remaining, and needs to win them all to make a bowl for the first time since 2011.

''We're just ready to attack it,'' Brown said. ''It's not too much thinking involved. It's one game at a time and that's the right mind to have. And you just got to take it one game at a time. If you're looking past Wake Forest and at the other teams then you won't be able to really lock in on the task at hand, which is Wake Forest.

''So just taking it one game at a time, like I said.''

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