Recapping The Early Signing Period For Virginia Football

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The Virginia football program announced 18 signees on the first day of Division 1 football’s inaugural Early Signing Period. Those class of 2018 prospects who made their Cavalier commitments official are …

Brennan Armstrong, Dual-Threat Quarterback, 6’2″, 210 pounds, Shelby (OH)
Jaylon Baker, Cornerback, 6’2”, 165 pounds, Baylor (Chattanooga, TN)
Joe Bissinger, Offensive Lineman, 6’4″, 300 pounds, Memorial (Houston, TX)
Derek Devine, Offensive Lineman, 6’6”, 285 pounds, North Allegheny (Wexford, PA)
Javar Garrett, Linebacker, 6’2″, 205 pounds, The Peddie School (Hightstown, N.J.)
TC Harrison, Linebacker, 6’3”, 205 pounds, Collins Hill (Suwanee, GA)
Bobby Haskins, Offensive Lineman, 6’7”, 260 pounds, The Hun School (Princeton, N.J.) by way of Fairfield Prep (Fairfield, CT)
Tavares Kelly, Wide Receiver/Returner, 5’9”, 165 pounds, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL))
Billy Kemp, Wide Receiver, 5’9″, 170 pounds, Highland Springs (VA)
Grant Misch, Linebacker, 6’4”, 230 pounds, Potomac Falls (Sterling, VA)
Ugo Obasi, Wide Receiver, 6’1″, 180 pounds, Milford Mill (Baltimore, MD)
Hunter Pearson, Placekicker, 6’3”, 200 pounds, Seneca (S.C.)
Bryce Perkins, Dual-Threat Quarterback, 6’3″, 215 pounds, Arizona Western College (Yuma, AZ) via Chandler High School (AZ) and Arizona State University
– Jordan Redmond, Defensive Lineman, 6’1″, 290 pounds, Osceola (Kissimmee, FL)
Noah Taylor, Linebacker, 6’5”, 200 pounds, Avalon School (Gaithersburg, MD)
Wooby Theork-Youmans, Wide Receiver, 5’10”, 170 pounds, Naples (FL)
Martin Weisz, Offensive Lineman, 6’6”, 305 pounds, The Benjamin School (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
Joseph White, Defensive Back, 6’2”, 175 pounds, Landstown (Virginia Beach, VA)

Four previously committed players — cornerback DJ Brown, offensive linemen Will Lawrence and Micah Mariteragi, and defensive lineman Samson Reed — did not sign with the Hoos. Technically, because this early period ends on December 22, players still have time to sign. No more early signees are expected, however.

Of the 18, four — quarterbacks Brennan Armstrong and Bryce Perkins, offensive lineman Bobby Haskins, and outside linebacker Noah Taylor — will enroll on Grounds next month (January of 2018).

“From our perspective, the young men that have signed, the 18 that signed, they made their commitments, we accepted ‘em, we wanted ‘em all, were going to wait for all of ‘em,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said during his December 20 press conference. “If there was not an early signing date it would have just been normal. I think it’s a relief and a celebration to them and a relief and a celebration to us, and now we can just go forward.”

“I’m excited about our class,” Mendenhall continued. “We’re continuing to fill our needs. We are continuing to build our roster. We’re continuing to add good players and good students and good people, and just taking another step forward.”

UVA’s 2018 Class Signees: By The Numbers

POSITION

2 QB – Brennan Armstrong, Bryce Perkins
3 WR – Tavares Kelly, Ugo Obasi, Wooby Theork-Youmans
1 HB – Billy Kemp
4 OL – Joe Bissinger, Derek Devine, Bobby Haskins, Martin Weisz
1 DL – Jordan Redmond
4 LB – Javar Garrett, T.C. Harrison, Grant Misch, Noah Taylor
2 DB – Jaylon Baker (CB), Joseph White (DB)
1 PK – Hunter Pearson

LOCATION

Based on the player’s hometown, UVA signed four players from the state of Florida, three players from Virginia, two players from Maryland, and one player each from Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Garrett and Haskins attend schools in New Jersey but reside in Delaware and Connecticut, respectively.

Despite Virginia’s minimal success so far this year, in-state recruiting remains an emphasis for Coach Mendenhall. Virginia’s second-year coach said his ideal is to have a third of each recruiting class made up of players from the Commonwealth.

RANKINGS

Team-wise, Rivals.com has Virginia’s class tied with Wake Forest for no. 49 in the nation and no. 9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 247Sports’ Composite rankings have Virginia with the no. 50 class in the nation, no. 10 in the ACC. Note that these rankings include committed players as well as signees. Rivals’ ranking does not include junior college signee Bryce Perkins.

As for the player rankings (signees only) …

Rivals
-Fourteen 3 stars – Brennan Armstrong, Jaylon Baker, Javar Garrett, T.C. Harrison, Bobby Haskins, Tavares Kelly, Grant Misch, Ugo Obasi, Hunter Pearson, Jordan Redmond, Noah Taylor, Wooby Theork-Youmans, Martin Weisz, Joseph White
-Three 2 stars – Joe Bissinger, Derek Devine, Billy Kemp

247Sports (Composite)
All 18 signees are rated as 3-star recruits by 247Sports Composite.

ESPN
ESPN gives Virginia a 4-star recruit in Brennan Armstrong but has Jaylon Baker as “Not Rated.” The other 16 signees are rated as 3-star recruits.

Early Signing Period Storylines: Quarterback A Strength Of This Class

Coach Mendenhall has been open about his desire to have a player with dual-threat capabilities running his offense. He reiterated this during his December 20 press conference.

“We were actually clear two years ago as to what our preferred style of play would be,” Mendenhall said. “Sometimes the preferred style and the roster you have and the possible solutions that are available, those don’t all match, and I think the really skilled coaches are the ones that while they’re building programs they make the most of the resources they have. The best way that I’ve framed it, or at least the way it makes sense to me, is sometimes you do what you have to do on the way to what you want to do. We had an opportunity now to add two very good players, good leaders and productive players at quarterback that are dual-threat, and that’s our ideal. We would rather play that style. We know how to do it and had success with it with Taysom Hill at BYU.”

Pro-style quarterback Lindell Stone, who has played in one game as a true freshman this season, is still in the mix. Mendenhall said the former Woodberry Forest (VA) star “will have something to say” about his standing on the depth chart with his play this coming spring.

With a dual-threat being the ideal for this staff and Mendenhall so high on Perkins and Armstrong, Stone may face an uphill battle for playing time. The 6’3”, 215-pound Perkins arrives at Virginia next month after playing one season at Arizona Western College. He’ll have at least two years of eligibility remaining.

Mendenhall called Perkins, a former Chandler High School (AZ) and Arizona State signal caller, “fast” and “dynamic.” Perkins total 1,664 yards of offense (1,311 passing) while leading AWC to the NJCAA championship game this season. Armstrong, a 6’2”, 210-pound lefty signal caller, was a 4-year starter at Shelby (OH), which went 13-1 and reached the Division IV state semifinals this season.

“I really like Bryce and I really like Brennan, and so I think we were really strong in both of those kids’ evaluations and their commitments, and so I’m excited about them,” Mendenhall said.

Numbers-wise, Mendenhall stated that the program could use one more quarterback, specifically a grad-transfer. However, in part because of the value Mendenhall placed on the two new signees and the fact that they both will enroll next month, adding another quarterback for next season appears off the table at this point. Mendenhall mentioned also that Stone and De’Vante Cross will be in the competition, though Cross’ “home” position moving forward will be wide receiver.

Other positions Mendenhall took note of include linebacker and wide receiver. Virginia signed four linebackers in last year’s class. All four played in the 2017 season. Four more have been added in this class, with speedy outside linebacker Noah Taylor enrolling next month.

“Linebacker, just by simple ability, seeing the size, seeing the speed, seeing the production and the numbers that we got, that seems to be a position that is really accessible for us here, as well as in the secondary,” Mendenhall said.

Early Signing Period Storylines: Needs Moving Forward

Assuming no other players sign during this Early Signing Period, we look ahead to the “regular” signing period, which begins Wednesday, February 7. Coach Mendenhall discussed what specific needs he would like to address in the next month-and-a-half of 2018 recruiting.

“We would like another wide receiver, possibly a graduate transfer to add some experience for Doni (Dowling) and Andre (Levrone) as they move on. I think that would add value,” Mendenhall said. “We’d look for another defensive back even though that’s the strength of our team probably coming back. We’d still like to have more depth and really bright young players to train for the future there. Another defensive lineman I think we would add certainly. And then probably one more offensive lineman. And then whatever best available players would be left, I would consider them.”

Following the Early Signing Period, we’ll examine those needs more closely and evaluate the known remaining targets on Virginia’s board.

Early Signing Period Storylines: Those Who Didn’t Sign

As mentioned above, four previously committed players didn’t sign with Virginia on December 20. How does Coach Mendenhall see those players from a commitment standpoint?

“Someone that is committed that didn’t sign, I have to treat like they’re not committed,” Mendenhall said.

“Any player that we had committed that chose not to sign today, we have to prepare and recruit as if they’re not going to sign,” Mendenhall continued. “It’s hard but, man, there’s no rules against signing, and so if they’re committed it doesn’t make sense not to sign.”

Mendenhall shed some light as to the reasons given for some of the players not signing.

“I can’t speculate on all the reasons, but there are some recruiting classes from a school that are wanting everyone to wait, and there … It’s hard to even know the motives,” Mendenhall said bluntly. “Again, it’s hard to say why someone would be truly committed and have a chance to sign and not, and so I’m still trying to grasp it, but I’ve got feedback from a coach that just wants to do it once regardless of what that implies, and I’ve got some feedback from some young men trying to sign together. I don’t think either one makes any sense, but that’s just from my perspective as a college coach.”

It seems likely that St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) cornerback DJ Brown is the player whose coach wants to do one signing day ceremony and for that to take place during the regular signing period. Two other St. John’s recruits, quarterback Kevin Doyle (Michigan) and defensive tackle Cam Goode (Virginia Tech), didn’t sign with their respective schools.

The Detroit Free Press reports in this article that Doyle said his prep coach preferred a large team-based ceremony and Harbaugh was also fine with the situation.

Mendenhall’s comment, “some young men trying to sign together,” may reference Kahuku (HI) products Micah Mariteragi and Samson Reed, although that’s just speculation. We plan to get in touch with both players to discuss their status with Virginia and vice versa.

Thoughts

There is obvious excitement with respect to the two quarterback prospects who signed with the Cavaliers, and I expect Perkins to have every opportunity to grab hold of the starting quarterback position before next season. Having Perkins enroll next month is huge from a physical standpoint but also in terms of getting to know the playbook and personnel.

I like what Virginia has done at wide receiver with Kelly, Kemp, Obasi and Theork-Youmans. Adding a grad-transfer with some size would be a terrific complement. Kemp is listed as an H-back in the mold of Olamide Zaccheaus. Kelly has the ability and the versality to play a similar role, only he brings more speed than Kemp. Kelly, Kemp and Theork-Youmans all have nice potential as returners as well. Obasi is a quality addition with more size than his classmates.

Virginia continues to add speed and athletic players at linebacker, a position Mendenhall and company have recruited nicely in 2017 and 2018. Taylor and Harrison give the Hoos two more fast, rangy outside linebackers to go along with Charles Snowden and Elliott Brown from last year’s class, while Javar Garrett seems likely to play inside. In-state prospect Grant Misch seems likely to start inside as well. In time, he could also develop into a defensive end.

I also like Virginia’s two defensive back prospects, Jaylon Baker and Joseph White. Mendenhall likened Baker to Bryce Hall … if that comparison is accurate, the Cavaliers will be happy. White played a major role at receiver and defensive back on a Landstown (Virginia Beach, VA) squad that went undefeated in the 2017 regular season. White is a playmaker pure and simple, and he’s also a player I could see playing multiple roles in Virginia’s defense. The fact that he hails from talent-rich Virginia Beach/Tidewater doesn’t hurt.

Hunter Pearson gives the Hoos a talented placekicker. While Mendenhall is high on current starter A.J. Mejia, the Cavaliers certainly need a consistent solution at that position. Kohl’s Kicking ranks the South Carolina standout as the no. 10 placekicker prospect in the nation in 2018.

Coach Mendenhall mentioned some of the needs he plans to address. Those previously committed players who didn’t sign could certainly help fill those gaps, but Virginia is involved with other talented prospects as well. Defensive line should be a big need with Juwan Moye and Steven Wright transferring out.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Virginia’s 2017 success helps as they try and close out 2018 on a strong note. It certainly can’t hurt with in-state recruiting, which needs improving but may just take time.

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