As soon as the coronavirus pandemic started, and lockdown kept teammates from spending time together, Virginia wide receiver Terrell Jana wondered how he could further establish his burgeoning voice and presence.
Never losing faith in Jana’s abilities to bring teammates together, U.Va. coach Bronco Mendenhall has steadfastly talked about Jana and linebacker Charles Snowden being his team’s undisputed leaders. Snowden has made his mark through his involvement in Washington, D.C., protests with Black Lives Matter, and with a campaign he helped start through social media and the #HoosYourHero Twitter campaign to honor health-care professionals.
Like Snowden, Jana has managed to find ways to influence on both macro and micro levels. It’s as much about learning how to lead for Jana as it is putting it in motion.
“I’m definitely not as vocal as (Snowden) is,” said Jana, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior from Vancouver, British Columbia, who was third on the team last season with 74 catches, for 886 yards and six touchdowns. “I think we’re a good pair. His leadership is definitely more upright and vocal. I’m more of a one-on-one guy and trying to rally the troops on a personal level, so I think we work well together.”
Jana has relied on technology to assert himself when face-to-face contact hasn’t always been an option. In the spring, he was a regular on video conferences, connecting with friends from other colleges and teammates, mostly with no agenda — simply just to check in and see how people were holding up.
“Different guys, especially right now with (the coronavirus) going on, are dealing with stuff back home,” said Jana, who graduated from Woodberry Forest School in Madison County north of Charlottesville. “I’m trying to support them in different ways. The main goal right now is every single day to kind of try to help a teammate out and help them get through what they’re going through and support them and encourage them.”
In addition to video conferences with his inner circle of teammates and friends, he’s had opportunities to expand his conversations outside the U.Va. community by advising high school kids through a group led by U.Va. athletes. He’s also participating in a still-developing group called College Athletes Unity, which has given him a chance to talk to college athletes from all over the nation about a broad range of topics.
Jana said the group, which communicates through group chats, texts, a website and several social media platforms, has grown to what he estimates is likely 400 to 500 college athletes who are still formulating the message of the organization, but all seek to affect positive social change.
Right now, a petition is circulating through the organization to hopefully generate reform for Ivy League athletes, who all don’t receive athletic scholarships, so that they can be permitted to return to athletic competition for a graduate year — an opportunity Ivy League athletes aren’t currently afforded.
“The main thing right now is a lot of people’s season is being canceled,” Jana said. “People are just trying to navigate that. … It’s interesting to hear other’s perspectives, people from other schools, ACC schools and hearing what they’re doing and how it compares to us (at U.Va.). After hearing a lot, I’m thankful for the leadership (at U.Va.) and for coming back when we did. I think we did it safely.”
Mendenhall has encouraged his players to evaluate social cause activities, and to participate and have voices if deemed appropriate by players after careful consideration. Jana and Snowden have gained Mendenhall’s trust as players who can be relied upon by teammates to make positive choices.
“They’re exceptional in every way,” Mendenhall said. “So much of our current protocol, including nightly check-ins (during voluntary workouts), our players are checking in with leaders on our team, and it’s amazing the accountability they’re having, and they’re being much more effective I think than if they were checking in with coaches.
“This can’t be managed into success. This is personal choice based on commitment to team, and empathy, maybe even more than science, will drive the outcome to this. … Jana and Snowden are driving that and asking for that at the very highest level, and our team is responding. Those kinds of initiatives have the best chance to hold and galvanize.”
Norm Wood, 757-247-4642, email@example.com
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