Virginia football used three placekickers over the course of the 2016 season. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, none of the three provided the consistent production head coach Bronco Mendenhall was looking for in the field goal department.
Dylan Sims handled field goal duties to start. However, the senior never attempted a field goal and went 4-5 on extra points before the Cavaliers turned to sophomore Alex Furbank. Furbank attempted two field goals against U-Conn, making a 23-yarder but missing a 20-yard attempt that would have tied the game as time expired. Furbank made 6-of-7 extra points before being replaced by former UVA soccer player, Sam Hayward. Hayward, a junior, made all 19 of his extra points but made only 4-of-8 field goals, including a long of 36 yards. He missed both attempts over 40 yards.
Virginia’s placekicking unit obviously struggled with field goals. Kickoffs weren’t very good, either. Only 37% of UVA’s kickoffs went for touchbacks. Opponents, meanwhile, booted 49% of kickoffs for touchbacks.
Hayward and Furbank have eligibility remaining. There is also Nash Griffin, who redshirted as a true freshman this past season. Griffin considered recruited walk-on opportunities at Michigan and Northwestern before accepting UVA’s walk-on offer. He has potential as a placekicker and a punter, though he is currently listed as a placekicker on VirginiaSports.com.
Besides those returning players, Virginia appears set to bring in two promising prospects as it searches for reliability at the placekicking position. The most highly regarded is Brian Delaney, who was the starting placekicker and punter for 2015 and 2016 6A state champion Westfield High School (Chantilly, VA).
Kohl’s Kicking ranks Delaney as the no. 1 punting prospect and the no. 17 placekicking prospect in the 2017 class. The Washington Post first-team all-metro selection connected on 5-of-7 field goals from over 40 yards, including a 50-yarder, during his senior season. Kohl’s envisions Delaney making an immediate impact.
Delaney has proven at multiple Kohl’s events that he has D1 talent on KO’s and punts. He won the UC Challenge in Jan of 2016 by averaging almost 7 yards more per KO than his closest competitor. His KO’s are different than other very good 2017 players and his punting is very consistent and impressive. He drives the ball farther than anyone in the 2017 class in punting. His FG off the ground are improving but not quite at the same level as his KO’s and punts. He can be weapon at the D1 level in year one. Delaney earned a spot in the Under Armour All-American Game with his dominant performance at the National Scholarship Camp in July of 2016. – Kohl’s Kicking’s evaluation.
Delaney has verbally accepted a scholarship offer from Mendenhall and plans to sign a letter of intent with the Hoos on February 1. A second high school senior placekicker pledged to the Hoos last Friday. Peyton Henry, a prospect out of Monte Vista (Danville, CA), is rated the no. 25 placekicking prospect in his class by Kohl’s Kicking. He will walk-on at UVA, spurning a recruited walk-on offer from California.
Henry has huge FG range off the ground. The ball explodes off his foot. His FG range is top 10 in the 2017 class. The talented lefty is also good on Kick Offs but can improve in the years to come to match his FG range. He is a D1 kicker. – Kohl’s Kicking’s evaluation.
Placekicking help appears on the way. Virginia will need to replace departing All-ACC punter Nicholas Conte next season, too. The Sabre.com’s Kris Wright reported last Friday that Lester Coleman is the frontrunner to replace Conte. Coleman has two years of eligibility remaining. Griffin and Delaney could push for the starting punter position as well.
It’s no secret that Virginia is in the market for transfers this offseason. The Cavaliers already have a commitment from Notre Dame graduate transfer offensive lineman John Montelus and will continue to pursue other transfers on the line, which is sorely in need of depth. Quarterback is another position where Virginia will be actively seeking a transfer, and, just recently, Marvin Zanders is one to watch.
— dad (@MarvinZanders) December 19, 2016
The 6’1”, 185-pound Zanders, a Jacksonville (FL) native, signed with Missouri in 2014. After redshirting his freshman year, Zanders played in one game in 2015 and eight games this season for the Tigers, accounting for 312 total yards (198 rushing, 114 passing) and three touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 passing).
Zanders, who announced his plans to transfer on December 8, plans to graduate in May. As a college graduate he’ll be able to transfer to any FBS school and be eligible to play right away, just like UVA’s Kurt Benkert did last spring/summer. Zanders will have two years of eligibility remaining.
While nothing is set in stone, Zanders appears to be a good fit. He would give UVA a redshirt junior behind senior Kurt Benkert, helping to bridge the gap to younger quarterbacks Sonny Abramson, De’Vante Cross, and Lindell Stone. Abramson and Cross will be redshirt freshmen next season, while Stone is expected to sign in February and will be a true freshman next year.
Two UVA class of 2017 recruits won state championships in 2016. The aforementioned Delaney is one. The other is linebacker Matt Gahm, who helped Highland Park (Dallas, TX) to a 5A Division 1 state title this past Saturday. The Scots (14-2) defeated Temple in the championship game.
Gahm, a 6’3”, 220-pound senior, was one of his team’s top defensive players this season. Heading into the title game, the future Cavalier had racked up 104 total tackles (63 solo) including seven tackles for loss and six sacks. He forced five fumbles, picked off two passes, had two fumble recoveries, and blocked a punt as well (stats per MaxPreps).
Gahm’s mid-season senior highlights are posted below (courtesy of Hudl).