Virginia football entered the 2017 season featuring brand new starters at field goal kicker, place-kicker (kickoffs), and punter. Junior Lester Coleman has fared well in replacing departed All-ACC punter Nicholas Conte. Now a scholarship player, Coleman is averaging 40.6 yards per punt with a long of 63. Six punts have stopped inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
The kickers haven’t been a major cause of concern like last year’s group, which struggled mightily on field goals, making only 5-of-10 attempts (none from 40-and-out). However, there are some questions. There is only a small live-game sample size to evaluate A.J. Mejia, Virginia’s true freshman walk-on field goal kicker. Through four games the former Paul VI (Fairfax, VA) standout has kicked only three field goals, connecting on two opportunities between 20 and 29 yards but missing (badly) his only effort from beyond 40.
Just how consistent and productive Mejia will be remains to be seen. What we do know, though, is that he has gained the confidence of his head coach.
“Really like Mejia, from a placekicking standpoint, meaning field goals,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said during the weekly ACC teleconference. “He’s not as powerful from a kickoff perspective, so he’s more of a distant third when it comes to kickoff.”
True freshman scholarship kicker Brian Delaney has handled 23 of the 24 Cavalier kickoffs this season. Junior Andrew King’s one kick came in last week’s win over Boise State, and the two may shuffle back-and-forth until Mendenhall gets the consistency and production he seeks.
“Our field goal kicker is more consistent right now and more secure in terms of his position than our placekicker, as was reflected in the Boise game, and so there still is a competition based on their ability to place the ball where we want,” Mendenhall said. “Most kicks and kickoffs do have direction and do have a ball placement that we’re looking for, and so we want distance, we want hang time, but we also want direction, so whichever of Brian or Andrew that can do that more consistently, we’ll assess it every single week, and that’s still an ongoing process. Our punter is becoming more consistent, and so really our kickoff is kind of where we’re looking right now.”
The punting and kicking games were huge question marks for the Cavaliers as the 2017 season began. So far, so good for the most part, but we’ll see from here if Mejia can give the Hoos a legitimate field goal threat outside of 30 yards and if the Hoos can find a permanent solution on kickoffs. Certainly, though, the feeling is much better than it was in 2016.
“Daily improvement” is the simple goal during Virginia’s bye week.
“Sometimes in a bye week, there’s focus on rest and focus on recuperation and regeneration and contemplation,” Mendenhall said. “This is just about work and improvement, and so we’re really preparing more similarly as if we were to play a game this Saturday than if it was a bye week, and there’s a slight difference in volume, but really the mindset is very similar.”
During Wednesday’s teleconference, Mendenhall addressed the health of junior linebacker Malcolm Cook and sophomore wide receiver/kick returner Joe Reed.
Cook, who suffered an injury against UConn, did not travel to Boise State. Reed was injured against the Huskies as well. He made the trek to Boise State but did not play.
“Neither has practiced this week, and we’re hopeful to have both of them back for the Duke game,” Mendenhall said on September 27.
Coaches on the Recruiting Trail
The latest tweets from Cavaliers assistants Nick Howell, Mark Atuaia, and Vic So’oto, who are on the road recruiting. It appears Howell may have been in Virginia Beach last night to watch Virginia defensive back commit Joseph White and the Landstown Eagles take down Ocean Lakes, 26-23.
White had a receiving score in the win, which keeps his team undefeated in 2017.
D.C. this morning and 757 tonight. Some good ball players coming to UVA to embrace the #NewStsndard #
— Nick Howell (@Nick9Howell) September 28, 2017
Pounding that pavement looking for those young ballerz willing to be uncommon, uncomfortable, then in the end–unparalleled #HoosRising
— UVACoachAtuaia (@UVACoachAtuaia) September 28, 2017
Love seeing high school football across the country. Hawaii last weekend, Virginia tonight and Texas tomorrow night. 5 or 0 , COMPETE!
— Vic So'oto (@Coach_Sooto) September 28, 2017