Virginia Football Concludes 2018 Class With Key Additions In The Trenches

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Rutgers graduate transfer offensive lineman Marcus Applefield, defensive lineman Aaron Faumui and offensive lineman Micah Mariteragi are the newest additions to the Virginia football program, which announced the signings of all three players on February 7, the beginning of Division 1 football’s regular signing period for the class of 2018.

In total, Virginia signed 20 high school seniors in class of 2018 recruiting while also adding Applefield and junior college quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins and 18 high school senior prospects signed with the Cavaliers during the early signing period December 20-22. As a result, the first day of the regular signing period – the big day in recruiting in past years – didn’t have the same level of anticipation and excitement.

Because the majority of Virginia’s recruits signed early, Coach Mendenhall acknowledged during his February 7 press conference that there weren’t many spots available to fill. Nevertheless, there were some needs to fill and Signing Day still offered some excitement, beginning with Applefield’s decision.

The Weeki Wachee (FL) native took time out of his New Jersey Police internship to sign with the Hoos, choosing UVA over Pittsburgh. As a Rutgers graduate, he’ll be immediately eligible to play next season while he pursues a master’s degree in Charlottesville. Applefield started 10 games at right guard for the Scarlet Knights last season.

“Marcus was the [graduate transfer offensive lineman] we wanted from the very beginning with a lot of space between whoever would become our distant second,” said Mendenhall, who stated that the coaches wanted to sign one grad-transfer offensive lineman and one high school offensive lineman during this regular signing period.

“[Applefield] is a really strong leader in the Rutgers program, a very good football player, very experienced, very mature, and I was really impressed with who he is as a person,” Mendenhall said. “That adds immediate depth and quality of play at a position we have an immediate need at. I can’t express the value of that.”

The Applefield news was a good start to the day. The excitement went up a notch when Virginia began picking up steam as the possible destination for consensus 4-star cornerback Noah Boykin of H.D. Woodson (Washington, D.C.). Boykin, who de-committed from Maryland last month, was considered a heavy Florida lean heading into the day. Virginia’s coaches never gave up, though, and the Cavaliers earned some 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions ahead of Boykin’s planned morning announcement. Unfortunately, the talented defensive back announced at noon that he was signing with Notre Dame, which earlier signed previous Virginia commitment DJ Brown.

The disappointment from Boykin’s decision was softened when news broke that defensive line commitment Aaron Faumui had signed with Virginia over in-state FBS program Hawaii. Faumui was thought to have committed to UVA on his official visit the weekend of January 26-28. However, the following week he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he planned to sign with Hawaii. Virginia won out in the end, and Faumui helps address a position of need.

“’Dynamic’ is how I would describe Aaron,” Mendenhall said of Faumui, who played on the offensive and defensive lines in high school but will play on the defensive line at Virginia. “He is explosive. When you watch him play in the game, big play potential and fast and explosive and plays with passion and effort. When someone shows that (energy) playing both ways, that’s pretty exceptional.”

Capping off the day was a faxed letter of intent from Kahuku (HI) standout offensive lineman Micah Mariteragi, whose signing was the one certainty heading into the day.

“Micah – he was a receiver that grew into an offensive lineman, which means there is a lot of athleticism, a lot of mobility, but most importantly, he’s tenacious. Really plays football the way that I like it to be played,” Mendenhall said. “He’s physical, he finishes, he chases defenders downfield, and there is a passion for the game. And he loves tough football. The culture we’re working to build here on the offensive and defensive fronts is just that, so we thought he was an exceptional fit.”

Two dual-threat quarterbacks, four wide receivers, six offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, four linebackers, two defensive backs and one place-kicker are the newest Cavalier scholarship players. Additionally, look for class of 2016 signee Wayne Taulapapa, a running back, to enroll on Grounds this summer after concluding a two-year mission. Coach Mendenhall acknowledged also that he may be in the market for the graduate transfer defensive lineman for next season.

UVA’s 2018 CLASS (Plus Applefield and Perkins)

– Marcus Applefield, Offensive Lineman, 6’5”, 308 pounds, Weeki Wachee (FL) via Rutgers (graduate transfer, immediately eligible)
Brennan Armstrong, Dual-Threat Quarterback, 6’2″, 210 pounds, Shelby (OH), ENROLLED IN JAN. 2018
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)
– Aaron Faumui, Defensive Lineman, 6’1”, 270 pounds, Kapolei (HI)
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), ENROLLED IN JAN. 2018
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)
– Micah Mariteragi, Offensive Lineman, 6’2”, 265 pounds, Kahuku (HI)
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, ENROLLED IN JAN. 2018
Jordan Redmond, Defensive Lineman, 6’1″, 290 pounds, Osceola (Kissimmee, FL)
Samson Reed, Defensive Lineman, 6’2”, 265 pounds, Kahuku (HI)
Noah Taylor, Linebacker, 6’5”, 200 pounds, Avalon School (Gaithersburg, MD), ENROLLED IN JAN. 2018
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)

National recruiting outlets rated this class lower than last year’s group, which was Mendenhall’s first full recruiting class as Cavalier head coach. Still, Mendenhall is pleased with the class, in particularly the type of character student-athletes being added to the program.

“I think my staff is doing a really good job in terms of attracting and selecting the possible candidates,” Mendenhall said. “I think we’re getting relationships built at a much higher level of trust in the mid-Atlantic region than we certainly had two years ago. We also maintained some footholds – and some pretty strong ones – where we came from, which I thought would just kind of go away, but they’re kind of pursuing us a little bit in the fact that those networks and those calls and those referrals are coming with players. The coaches know who I am and what I’m looking for, what kind of program we run and I run, and which players they have that might fit, and so that’s been fun to see the momentum generated in that regard.”

Final Rankings

According to 247Sports and Rivals.com, Virginia’s 2018 Class ranks as follows … (Note that Rivals does not include Applefield and Perkins and 247Sports does not include Applefield.)

Rivals: UVA is tied for No. 66 nationally and is No. 13 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Rivals ranks all of UVA’s recruits on the 3-star level with the exception of 2-star recruits Joe Bissinger, Derek Devine, Faumui, Billy Kemp and Mariteragi.

247Sports: 247Sports has a composite ranking and its own ranking. The Composite has Virginia with the No. 65 class in the country, No. 13 in the ACC. 247Sports’ own ranking has the Cavaliers at No. 65 nationally, the No. 12 class in the ACC. 247Sports Composite ranks each player in Virginia’s class on the 3-star level. 247Sports has speedy outside linebacker Noah Taylor as a 4-star and the rest of the class as 3-stars.

Virginia’s 2017 Class, the first full class under Mendenhall, which was rated by Rivals as No. 57 in the nation and by 247Sports Composite as No. 58.

Hawaii Connection Proving Beneficial

During his time at BYU, Mendenhall boasted the second-most Polynesian players behind Hawaii. He admitted he wasn’t sure if the Polynesian connection would work at Virginia, but so far the distance isn’t keeping players away.

“It’s previous relationships with established trust,” said Mendenhall, whose assistants Robert Anae and Mark Atuaia attended Hawaii’s Kahuku High School, where Virginia 2018 Class recruits Samson Reed and Mariteragi attend. “What I’ve learned over time is trust mitigates distance. It isn’t how far will they go. It’s who will they be with. And that’s the difference.”

UVA signed offensive tackle Chris Glaser in the class of 2017. Though he graduated from Solon High School in Ohio, Glaser is a native Hawaiian. He was the only true freshman offensive lineman to see the field last season, playing in five games and starting two. Virginia will boast five Hawaiian players on the roster next season.

“They’re really good football players by culture, by intent, by preparation,” Mendenhall said, discussing his general experience with Polynesian players. “So this year, now, counting Chris (Glaser) on our current team already and then Wayne (Taulapapa) coming off his mission, there will be five Polynesian players in our program, which is … it’s just the beginning. What I’m finding and what I’m seeing – and I didn’t know if that would work, coming to Virginia – it’s a stronger draw because of the people than I had imagined. When you consider the offensive and defensive fronts and the impact, and how that matches with the Polynesian culture, that just seems a natural fit so far.”

Line Recruiting

The offensive line has been a clear area of need since Mendenhall arrived in December of 2015. For the second consecutive class, Virginia signed five offensive line recruits from the high school level. Applefield will be the third graduate transfer offensive lineman in the past two years.

Offensive line recruiting can be tricky because it’s one of the toughest positions to project, but in terms of numbers I’d have to give the staff high marks the past two years. Glaser was the only player from last year’s group to play as a true freshman, but center Tyler Fannin and tackle Ryan Nelson are highly regarded. I expect to see them play this coming year. Although I’m not any of the five high school offensive line recruits in 2018 can contribute right away, it’s a solid looking group to develop for the future.

Because of attrition, the defensive line is a real concern at this point. Defensive ends Juwan Moye and Steven Wright, key rotational players for much of last season, have left the program. Christian Baumgardner is gone. Christian Brooks cannot play football anymore because of concussions, and there is concern around rising sophomore defensive end John Kirven, who has not cleared concussion protocol after suffering a concussion in the days leading up to the Military Bowl.

Including the three defensive line recruits, Virginia currently projects to have only 10 scholarship defensive linemen in 2018. Only nose tackle Eli Hanback and defensive end Mandy Alonso have any starting experience. Junior Richard Burney, a tight end before being moved to defensive end for the Military Bowl, has significant playing experience … on the offensive side of the ball. The remaining players have hardly any playing experience, much less starting experience.

“We possibly still might consider a grad-transfer defensive lineman,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall added that he will explore moving current players to the defensive line and possibly some of Virginia’s 2018 recruits. In terms of the recruits, I could see linebacker Grant Misch ultimately becoming a defensive. Mariteragi, given Mendenhall’s description of him, sounds like a potential defensive line candidate as well.

Early Enrollee QBs Impressing

Coach Mendenhall was high on Bryce Perkins and Brennan Armstrong when they signed in December. Now that they are on Grounds, Mendenhall’s opinion has not wavered.

“Bryce Perkins is probably beyond what I expected in terms of athleticism, leadership, and ability,” Mendenhall said, noting that his opinion is from what he has witnessed through team workouts, without throwing footballs. “Brennan Armstrong has also had a really strong showing.”

Barring a change, Mendenhall expects Virginia to go into the 2018 season without adding another scholarship quarterback to the mix. Rising sophomore Lindell Stone and walk-on Matthew Merrick round out the quarterbacks Mendenhall mentioned specifically during his February 7 presser, and wide receiver De’Vante Cross is an option as a dual-threat as well.

Final Thoughts

From a rankings standpoint, Virginia actually went backwards (slightly) from 2017 to 2018. Keep in mind, though, that much of the 2018 recruiting cycle took place during the 2016 season and into the winter, spring and summer before the 2017 season. The Hoos were working off a 2-10 campaign. By the time the 2017 season began, most class of 2018 prospects had made their collegiate decisions.

The class of 2019 should be a different story. Coach Mendenhall and company have two-plus years to develop relationships (particularly in-state), and the Cavaliers are coming off a six-win season that included a bowl appearance. While the Hoos didn’t end 2017 with a winning season, the improvement from year one to year two under Mendenhall should help on the recruiting trail. In fact, Mendenhall has stated that there is increased interest in the program as a result of the success. Now let’s see if the staff can take advantage.

Summing up 2018, I see the strengths being quarterback, linebacker, and depth along the offensive line.

Dual-threat signal callers are Mendenhall’s preference. He seems very high on both recruits with Perkins having a golden opportunity to be starter the next two seasons. Armstrong has a lot of promise as well. Virginia added speed and playmaking at receiver, too. Tavares Kelly, a dynamic slot receiver/returner out of a big-time Florida high school program in St. Thomas Aquinas, is one to watch for next season.

Defensively, the defensive line is an immediate concern. All three defensive line prospects have a chance to contribute early. Virginia’s linebacker haul is impressive, led by midyear enrollee Noah Taylor, whose speed and instincts could land him some playing time next season if he’s able to get bigger and stronger.

Defensive backs Jaylon Baker and Joseph White are good, versatile players. It’s nice to keep White in-state, hopefully the start of this staff making more inroads in the Commonwealth. Losing DJ Brown was important because the St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) Under Armour All-American certainly could have helped right away, but Baker and White have good potential as well. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one or both of those players contribute early.

Finally, one of the more important players in this class could be place-kicker Hunter Pearson. Virginia has yet to solve the place-kicking riddle in Mendenhall’s first two seasons. Is Pearson the answer? Let’s hope so.

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