The Virginia football program played nine true freshmen in the 2016 season, head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first as Cavalier head coach. Seventeen more saw action in 2017 as the Cavaliers compiled a 6-7 record and earned a 2018 Military Bowl berth.
Summer Session III at UVA begins on July 16, which marks the official start of the collegiate careers of most of UVA’s incoming first-year class. As Sabre Editor Kris Wright explored in an earlier “99 Thoughts,” a new NCAA rule allows players to play four games and still maintain redshirt status. With this rule in place, every one of Virginia’s 2018 Class is likely to see the field in 2018. But who will make the biggest impact? That’s what I’m exploring in this latest “99 Thoughts.”
99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: No. 62 – True Freshmen Will Play, But Who Will Make The Most Impact?
Cornerback Bryce Hall (7 starts, 4 pass breakups, 2 interceptions), linebacker Jordan Mack (12 games played, 40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), and wide receiver Joe Reed (678 kickoff return yards, 77 yards receiving) were among the impactful true freshmen during the 2016 season. Fourteen first-year players played in at least 10 games last season, with defensive end Mandy Alonso (4 starts) and offensive tackle Chris Glaser (2 starts) earning multiple starts. Brian Delaney (kickoff specialist) and A.J. Mejia (field goal kicker) played their roles the entire season.
As I mentioned above, I expect all of Virginia’s incoming first-years to play. That’s mainly because of the new rule, but it’s also important to remember that it’s early in Mendenhall’s rebuilding efforts and the 2018 group is only Mendenhall’s second full recruiting class as Cavalier head coach. In terms of those players who could become significant contributors in their first year on Grounds, three in particular stand out right now.
Offense – Tavares Kelly, Wide Receiver
Kelly, who comes to Virginia from talent-rich St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL), possesses blazing speed, something the Cavalier offense does not have a large supply of. Kelly is a homerun threat and a tough matchup in the open field. With his quickness and speed, Kelly also has big-time potential as a punt returner. Daniel Hamm held down the primary punt returner role the past two seasons, and while the departed graduate was very solid, Kelly has the speed and quickness to make punt returns very exciting.
Other potential impact true freshmen on offense include …
Any of the incoming wide receivers as Virginia is looking to replace graduated seniors Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling. A sleeper pick for me is H-back Billy Kemp. The former Highland Springs (VA) standout is savvy and quick, and, like Kelly, he could help on offense and as a punt returner. Note that I did not include quarterback Bryce Perkins here because he is a junior and this article focuses on true freshmen.
Defense – Samson Reed, Defensive Lineman
Offseason additions Dylan Thompson (graduate transfer; Former Ohio State Buckeye has one year of eligibility remaining) and Cassius Peat (transfer; former Michigan State player has two years of eligibility remaining) bring experience and add depth to a depleted defensive line. However, there is still room on the D-Line for more players to emerge and be part of the rotation.
Samson Reed is a 6’3”, 258-pound prospect out of Hawaii power Kahuku High School. The staff has mentioned the possibility of him playing nose, but he could play anywhere on the defensive line. In the final weeks before he enrolls, Reed is doing all he can to prepare.
— Tanoai Reed (@Tanoai1) June 21, 2018
Kissimmee (FL) native Jordan Redmond and Aaron Faumui of Hawaii round out UVA’s 2018 defensive line class. Frankly, since the opportunity is there, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of the three talents carve out roles this season. Speedy linebacker/safety Noah Taylor, a midyear enrollee, and defensive backs Joseph White and Jaylon Baker are other players I think could contribute significantly this season.
Special Teams – Hunter Pearson, Place-kicker
A.J. Mejia turned in a solid 2018 season, making 8-of-12 field goals and all 37 extra point attempts. However, the rising sophomore out of Fairfax (VA) missed his final two field goal attempts of the year – a 41-yarder in a 10-0 loss to Virginia Tech and a 48-yarder against Navy in the Military Bowl – and did not make a field goal from beyond 38 yards. He had the confidence of Coach Mendenhall and could have a stronghold on the field goal kicker role if he builds upon last season’s performance, but Hunter Pearson arrives as a highly regarded scholarship kicker out of South Carolina. The competition will be open as the Hoos search for consistency and production out of its field goal kicker.
The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has discussed much more. The previous articles are below. Click away.
- No. 99 – The importance of a fast start
- No. 98 – The impact of early-ending careers
- No. 97 – Jordan Mack’s role
- No. 96 – Welcome Back
- No. 95 – Han Solo Says
- No. 94 -Smart Addition
- No. 93 – The Center Spot
- No. 92 – Finding A Punt Returner
- No. 91 – Facing Running Quarterbacks
- No. 90 – Interceptions
- No. 89 – Kickoff Times
- No. 88 – QB Optimism Not Enough To Tilt Early Predictions Too Far
- No. 87 – It Starts With Jordan Ellis
- No. 86 – Virginia’s Most Dangerous Game
- No. 85 – The Tight End Swan Song?
- No. 84 – Teach A Man To Fish
- No. 83 – No Ordinary Joe
- No. 82 – Now Or Then
- No. 81 – How To Treat The Kickoff Rule Change
- No. 80 – Play, But Still Redshirt
- No. 79 – Which Red Zone Offense Is The Real One?
- No. 78 – Schedule For Success
- No. 77 – Who’s The Worst?
- No. 76 – ACC Coach Rankings
- No. 75 – Keep That Cold Weather Gear
- No. 74 – 1,000 Target For OZ
- No. 73 – Cross Out Cross-Training For Cross
- No. 72 – Punting Plans
- No. 71 – Redshirted … Ready?
- No. 70 – A June Jolt
- No. 69 – Who?
- No. 68 – Stops To Start Second Half
- No. 67 – Root, Root, Root For …
- No. 66 – Wildcard Extras
- No. 65 – Defense Showed Red Zone Improvement
- No. 64 – Welcome Back, Mr. Robinson
- No. 63 – The Florida Footprint