ACC All Access: Defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite leads "humbling" life while suspended from Virginia

Standing on a sideline in Scott Stadium last Saturday in a long gray winter coat, it would’ve been easy to mistake Chris Brathwaite with just another spring football practice onlooker.

This particular spring, that’s exactly what he is. He’s just another outsider trying to get a read on what’s going on out on the field, which is nowhere close to what he was doing last spring and fall.

Brathwaite, a 6-foot-1, 280-pound native of Brooklyn, N.Y., led Virginia last season in sacks (3½) and tackles for loss (10) as a backup defensive tackle. He was projected to be a sure-thing starter next season, but instead, he won’t be suiting up at all for U.Va.

In January, he was academically suspended for a year. Now, he’s relegated to staying connected to the program in any way possible, which means observing spring practice from the fringes.

“I don’t think there could ever be a good time for this to happen, but I’m glad it happened now,” said Brathwaite, who was a redshirt sophomore last season. “I can go through this situation early in my life. You can only get better from it. I’d rather be out (at practice) and in school doing work, but I’ll come back from it better. When you’re put in this situation, you’re going to have to work hard to get back. That’s something I’m really taking advantage of.”

Brathwaite is still living in Charlottesville. He plans to take classes this summer at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

He said any credits he earns at Piedmont won’t transfer to U.Va., but he wants to maintain an academic mindset. Next January, he’ll have to reapply for admission to U.Va.

In the meantime, he’s working in Charlottesville at Virginia Eagle Distributing Company, which distributes Anheuser-Busch products. It’s not glamorous employment. He loads, unloads and moves boxes, along with any other tasks he’s asked to perform.

“It’s very humbling,” Brathwaite said.

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Brathwaite said he knew last fall there was a chance he could be placed on academic suspension, but he was working to rectify the situation. He got too far behind, and ran out of time.

By late December, he knew an e-mail would be coming soon from the university with bad news. It arrived in mid-January, and informed him of his one year academic suspension.

“I’d known about the situation for a while,” Brathwaite said. “I was working on getting everything straight…There’s a lot of things I’ve done I would change, but I worked on trying to better the situation, but it didn’t work out in my favor.”

He appealed the decision by the university, but his appeal was denied. Reality sank in.

With Brathwaite off the roster, U.Va.’s projected starters at defensive tackle are seniors Justin Renfrow and Brent Urban. Brathwaite does all he can to remain close to the program, popping up at a spring practice here and there with coach Mike London’s permission.

It’s the only U.Va. football connection Brathwaite can have at this point.

“Everybody goes through something that they have to overcome, so that they can end up a better person,” Brathwaite said. “I’ll go through it. I’m still working out. I’m just ready to get back. I just still want to be around and still want to be involved. I don’t want to lose touch.”

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