I'm constantly adding Virginia football players to my friends list, and messaging them and telling them how much I support them.
Well, Fontel Mines of the Chicago Bears recently messaged me back—and sure enough I ended up making a Q&A out of it.
This was a pretty big deal for me. Sure, it's a small favor to ask—but something like that can mean a lot to a diehard Cavalier fan.
I've met a number of former Virginia legends, including Tiki Barber and Ralph Sampson. Even though I didn’t get to meet him in person, this Fontel Mines moment will definitely rank up there as one of my all-time favorites.
Fontel was a solid receiver for the Virginia Cavaliers. While he didn't win any awards or set any records during his days in Charlottesville, he was an excellent blocker with a solid set of hands.
Mines finished his career with 68 receptions for 737 yards and five touchdowns. His best season in Charlottesville came in 2005, when he caught 28 balls for 345 yards as a junior.
He also caught a career-high five passes for 60 yards in the Cavaliers’ stunning 26-21 win over fourth-ranked Florida State that year.
My father was in the stands for UVA's 1995 upset win against the ‘Noles, and it makes me smile to say I was in Scott Stadium for the 2005 stunner.
Marques Hagans put on the best quarterback performance I've ever seen that night, completing 27 of his 36 attempts for 306 yards and two touchdowns while running for his life from the first snap.
Hagans was able to find Fontel Mines a number of times, and I still vividly remember Mines making many impressive grabs.
Fontel surprised many people by landing on an NFL roster after the 2007 Draft—including Bears coach Lovie Smith.
"We really liked what our tight ends did in camp—not only Greg Olsen, but Fontel Mines," Smith said after the team's rookie minicamp. "He did a super job. He really came out of nowhere and really got our attention."
Reporter Larry Mayer also had words of high praise for the Richmond native, writing that Mines made “several impressive receptions down the middle of the field and caught virtually every pass that was thrown in his direction” during the Bears’ minicamp.
Anyways, let’s get down to it.
What follows is an exclusive interview with the Chicago Bears tight end, in which I ask him about his Virginia days, his decision to switch to tight end, and Bears’ All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, among other topics...
Q: You've been a wide receiver for most of your football career. Many fans, including myself, were pretty surprised when they found out that you are a tight end with the Chicago Bears. Why don't you talk a little bit about the decision to move to tight end, and how UVA coach Al Groh helped you in the decision-making process.
A: The choice to move to tight end came at the end of the season when I actually sat down and had a meeting with my former wide receiver coach John Garrett (current tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys) and UVA head coach Al Groh.
They both came from NFL backgrounds and they suggested if I wanted to have a long NFL career the best move would be a pass-catching tight end. I already had the body frame for the position, the key was to add on weight before UVA pro day and show the NFL coaches I was dedicated to the switch.
Before Coach Garrett left for Dallas, we worked every Tuesday and Thursday on tight end drills so therefore I would have a jump on the position going into Rookie Camp.
Q: What was your favorite win during your days at Virginia and why?
A: The best win in my UVA career would have to be the night we knocked off FSU when they were ranked No. 4 in the country. I had a pretty good game with five catches for 60 yards. The fans were amazing, my teammates played great, and it was just a memory that will always stick in my mind.
Q: You had the best game of your college career on the biggest of stages, against the Florida State Seminoles at Scott Stadium at night. Why do you feel like you were playing so well that night? Was it just something in the air or were you in the zone?
A: That night at Florida State was a night where the coaches put us in the position to make plays, and the players made them.
Marques Hagans made my job a lot easier with his amazing play that night, so I just tried to be there for him and make plays when he threw me the ball. I felt like I couldn’t drop anything, the whole team was out there having fun, playing backyard football...and that’s when you play your best.
We forgot about the plays, the pressure, the rankings, and just went out and played Virginia football.
Q: Virginia has a prestigious tradition at the tight end position. Did you try to learn anything from great tight ends such as Heath Miller or Tom Santi while you were in Charlottesville?
A: Once I finally made the choice to make the move to tight end, I sent Heath Miller a text message asking him advice on the position from a blocking standpoint. The best piece of advice he gave me was to "Hit them before they hit you, keep your hand inside." But our schedules conflicted so we never really got a chance to have the one-on-one time to work at those things.
I’m fortunate enough now to have a great teammate and friend in Desmond Clarke to teach me the ropes. He played wide receiver in college, so he knows where I’m coming from and has been there and already experienced what I’m going through.
Q: I'm sure a lot of people want to ask you about former Miami tight end Greg Olsen. He did some great things at Miami. You're playing alongside him in Chicago. Do you guys have a pretty good relationship? What kinds of things has he taught you about the tight end position?
A: Greg is an exceptional player and most of all very willing to help me with my switch. From Rookie Camp till now we have been going through everything together, from learning the plays to rookie initiation.
It’s good to learn from someone with some of the same skills as me. We both are used in the same type of way so we can grow together and someday will be a force together at the tight end position.
Q: What kinds of things are you interested in once your NFL career is over?
A: Once I’m done playing, I would love to go back to my old neighborhood in Richmond and coach—give some kids advice and someone to look up to, let them know that it is possible to make something out of yourself.
I think a positive male influence is always helpful because a lot of children are being raised in a single-parent home, as I was, and all they need is to be pointed in the right direction.
Q: You play in Chicago with center John St. Clair, who was one of the best offensive linemen in Virginia football history. Do you guys talk about life at Virginia at all?
A: John and I have developed a very good relationship. He has made the transition to the NFL a lot easier for me. We joke all the time with the other guys on the team every week about how well UVA is playing right now. We still keep up with them every week and watch the games when possible.
John actually played with Anthony Poindexter, who coached me...so that just reminds me that he has been doing this for a long time and he's very good at what he does.
Q: I bet Brian Urlacher is a nightmare to block. Why don't you talk about him for a little bit.
A: Brian Urlacher is a very humble and modest guy. He's very easy to talk to, and we joke a lot together. Going against him every week is just helping me get better and get to where I need to be to compete against the best players in the NFL.
Q: What different musicians and artists do you listen to?
A: I’m very open to a lot of music, but mostly I listen to Lil Wayne, Nas, and Common.
Q: I know you're a Richmond guy and you actually went to the same high school as current Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell (Hermitage High School). Do you keep in touch with Jameel and follow the team's progress?
A: Of course I keep in touch with Jameel, we are very good friends. I try to be there for him if he ever needs someone to talk to. We come from the same type of background, so we can relate to each other.
I watch every game that I can on TV. I shoot Jameel and Jeffrey Fitz (Fitzgerald) a text every now and then to let them know how well they are doing, and that the job isn't done yet and to keep working hard.
Q: What is your favorite part about being a Chicago Bear?
A: My favorite part about being a Chicago Bear would have to be the tradition. The fans here are diehard fans, and they love any and everyone who plays for the Bears.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say to all the Virginia football fans out there who are curious as to how you are doing?
A: I just want to say Thank You to all the Virginia Fans who supported my teammates and I through the good times and the bad times. I am working hard at keeping the trend of Virginia players doing well in the NFL alive.
Virginia Cavalier fans and Chicago Bear fans everywhere wish Fontel well as he continues to grow and progress in his NFL career.
I'd also like to extend a personal thank you to Fontel for taking the time out of his day to answer a few questions from me. It means a lot and I really appreciate it.