For Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall, extending a scholarship offer to 5’9”, 170-pound Highland Springs (VA) wide receiver/defensive back Billy Kemp proved to be an easy decision to make.
“I liked Billy a lot at camp,” Mendenhall said. “We didn’t have anyone who came to camp who could cover him. Then he switched over, when other players didn’t seem to want to compete; he played defense and nobody could catch the ball on him. As there was punts and kickoffs flying around he was catching those. He was just the best player on the field at any position on that day. That to me made more sense than any of the lack of measurables in terms of size. He’s just a really good football player who knows how to win. Three state championships. Again, I saw it with my own eyes. He was the best player to come to camp.”
Mendenhall has been a fixture at Highland Springs since being named Virginia head coach in December of 2015. He had pursued but missed on defensive back K’Von Wallace (c/o 2015) and offensive tackle Mekhi Becton (c/o 2016) before landing Kemp, who announced his commitment to the Cavaliers after his team captured the 2017 5A state title.
Kemp’s father graduated from UVA and sister is currently a student on Grounds, so he is very familiar with the University. Those family connections didn’t prompt an immediate commitment upon receiving the offer, but ultimately the talented prospect committed to and signed with the Cavaliers. He also considered offers from JMU and Richmond.
“I know at one point he wanted to blaze his own path, but UVA was the school that stuck its neck out and offered him a chance to play on the major college level,” Highland Springs head coach Loren Johnson said of his talented senior, who finished the 2017 campaign with 49 catches for 981 yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
Kemp’s situation is reminiscent of former Springer star Greg Dortch, who turned heads with a productive redshirt freshman season at Wake Forest. Dortch ultimately landed in the ACC, but many FBS programs — including both Virginia and Virginia Tech — passed on the 5’9” speedster.
Like Dortch, Johnson believes Kemp was underrecruited. Are there any other comparisons between the two players?
“Billy does some similar things to what Dortch does for our program,” Johnson said. “They are about the same height. Billy is thicker, but Greg is more elusive. Billy has big hands. He has thick, burly-type fingers that just suck the ball in when he catches it. He has strong hands. Both players never came off the field, especially during our state championship runs. Billy could help Virginia in the return game and playing slot receiver, if that’s the opportunity he gets. If he plays defense, I think Billy could be a great DB as well.”
Virginia officially listed Kemp as an H-back, the position Olamide Zaccheaus has played so well. Coach Mendenhall compared Kemp and fellow class of 2018 signee Tavares Kelly to Zaccheaus, indicating during his December 20 press conference that he looks forward to getting both players the ball in a similar fashion to Zaccheaus. Both players are about the same size, but Kelly is the speedster while Kemp is more “quick and production oriented,” Mendenhall said.
So how quickly could we see Kemp contributing on David A. Harrison III Field? Becton, Felton Davis, Dortch and Wallace are recent Highland Springs graduates who have experienced success early in college. Davis earned second-team all-Big 10 honors as a junior this season, his third straight year playing for the Spartans (no redshirt). Wallace has played in Clemson’s defensive backfield each of his first two seasons, while Becton was a starting offensive tackle at Louisville this year. Virginia hopes Kemp is the latest success story.
“I think in terms of college readiness, we work at preparing our kids on a regular basis,” Johnson said. “We do situational practices. We try our best to have our players have an understanding of the game of football. It’s not just athletes running around. It does help when our former guys come home, share techniques they’ve learned, thoughts and practice habits.”
“I think (Kemp could contribute) on the offensive side and the return game, especially early on,” Johnson said. “I know Coach Hagans does an excellent job. If I know anything about Coach Hagans and if I know anything about Billy Kemp, those two will mesh really well. I think Billy will spend a lot of time down there getting a great feel for what they are doing there. They have a kid from my neck of the woods going there from St. Thomas Aquinas (Tavares Kelly). They have the same body frame. I think those two guys could gel and make a formidable pair.”