Early Signing Period “Signing Day” Recap: Virginia Football’s Class Of 2019

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The University of Virginia football program announced the signing of 20 prospects in the class of 2019 on Wednesday (December 19), the first day of Division 1 Football’s Early Signing Period. And then offensive lineman Kariem Al Soufi made his commitment official on Thursday (December 20). Barring any unforeseen developments, the Cavaliers are finished with signings until the Regular Signing Period begins on Wednesday, February 6.

UVA’s 2019 Class Signees

Josh Ahern, Linebacker, 6’3″, 215 pounds, Lake Braddock (Burke, VA)
Kariem Al Soufi, Offensive Lineman, 6’4″, 350 pounds, Friedrich-Spree Gesamtschule (Paderborn, Germany)
Nathaniel Beal III, Wide Receiver, 6’5”, 200 pounds, Strake Jesuit College Prep (Houston, TX)
Jowon Briggs, Defensive Lineman, 6’2″, 286 pounds, Walnut Hills (Cincinnati, OH)
Chayce Chalmers, Defensive Back, 6’2”, 208 pounds, Stonewall Jackson (Manassas, VA)
Antonio Clary, Defensive Back, 6’0”, 200 pounds, Sandalwood (Jacksonville, FL)
Fentrell Cypress II, Defensive Back, 6’0″, 173 pounds, Northwestern (Rock Hill, S.C.)
Tenyeh Dixon, Defensive Back, 6’0”, 185 pounds, H.D. Woodson (Washington, D.C.)
Dorien Goddard, Wide Receiver, 6’3”, 222 pounds, Greeneville (TN)
Robert Harvey, Jr., Dual-Threat Quarterback, 5’10”, 182 pounds, Edgewater (Orlando, FL)
Mike Hollins, Running Back, 5’10”, 214 pounds, University Lab (Baton Rouge, LA)
JaQuay Hubbard, Offensive Lineman, 6’6”, 330 pounds, Sharpsville (PA)
Nick Jackson, Linebacker, 6’2”, 222 pounds, The Lovett School (Atlanta, GA)
Jonathan Leech, Offensive Lineman, 6’5”, 270 pounds, Mill Creek (Hoschton, GA)
Seneca Milledge, Running Back, 5’6”, 170 pounds, Dunbar (Fort Myers, FL)
DSean Perry, Linebacker, 6’3”, 223 pounds, Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL)
Ben Smiley III, Defensive Lineman, 6’4”, 280 pounds, Indian River (Chesapeake, VA)
Hunter Stewart, Linebacker, 6’3”, 220 pounds, Gonzaga College (Washington, D.C.)
Zachary Teter, Offensive Lineman, 6’5”, 290 pounds, Lake Gibson (Lakeland, FL)
Dontayvion Wicks, Wide Receiver, 6’2”, 195 pounds, Plaquemine (LA)
Major Williams, Defensive Back, 6’0”, 176 pounds, Dunbar (Fort Myers, FL)

UVA entered the day with 22 known commitments. Cornerback Tenyeh Dixon and wide receiver Nathaniel Beal III were not on the committed – at least publicly – heading into Wednesday, but both signed with the Hoos. Dixon, who had pledged to Temple prior to last weekend’s official visit in Charlottesville, informed head coach Bronco Mendenhall of his plans last Sunday.

“After the visit, on Sunday, we received his commitment, which he held,” Mendenhall said during his December 19 press conference. “And so that’s pretty typical with us as commitments do hold. So I was confident as of Sunday that that would happen and it did.”

Meanwhile, Beal visited Virginia officially earlier in December. The Cavaliers offered the then Iowa State commitment in early November.

“It was just a natural fit,” Mendenhall said of the match between Beal and UVA.

Reports surfaced Tuesday evening that Beal would not be signing with Iowa State, but whether the Houston native would sign with any other school (Virginia) during the Early Signing Period remained a question. Within an hour before Mendenhall’s press conference, Beal announced he had signed. Mendenhall seemed quite pleased to have the 6’5” playmaker in the fold.

“And so Nathaniel, in particular, has really nice size,” Mendenhall said. “We call players with that size always open, meaning that most corners that are matched up against him, there aren’t many 6’3″ or 6’4″ or 6’5″ corners. So whether they’re behind him or not, they’re always open. We wanted more size on the outside. We wanted more productivity. And we needed more consistency. And so Nathaniel, that was a really nice addition to this class and we’re really excited about him.”

Four players who were previously on the commitment list did not sign on Wednesday, including all three European commitments – quarterback Luke Wentz and offensive lineman Kariem Al Soufi of Germany and Denmark defensive lineman Emil Bo Andersen. Linebacker/athlete Jairus Satiu, a native of Utah who is now attending Fork Union Military Academy (VA), didn’t sign either. Multiple outlets report that Andersen is a non-qualifier and no longer part of Virginia’s class, but Wentz, Al Soufi and Satiu remain committed are expected to sign during the Regular Signing Period.

**UPDATE**: UVA announced on Thursday (Dec. 20) that Kariem Al Soufi has signed.

Virginia’s 2019 Class is easily the best from a rankings perspective in the Bronco Mendenhall era. At the end of the day Wednesday (Dec. 19), Rivals.com ranked UVA’s haul no. 32 in the nation and no. 5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 247Sports has Virginia with the no. 42 class in the nation, no. 8 in the ACC. 247Sports also has a “Composite” ranking, and in this ranking the Cavaliers have the no. 34 class in the nation, no. 5 in the ACC. Note that all of these rankings include the signed and committed prospects.

“Our momentum generated by this class, by outside and objective raters, has this class fairly high, which means that there’s a perception of momentum and positive things happening at UVA. In this particular case it just happens to be right,” said Mendenhall, who admits he is “not big on star ratings as a baseline.”

“We are gaining momentum,” Mendenhall continued. “The class is strong. And so, yeah, it’s just one of those things that aligns. And I’m excited about that. And I think it has a really nice benefit to our program. But again that’s coinciding partly with the progress that’s been made already, specifically with the two recruiting classes that our staff has brought and the two bowl games that they’ve yielded. And the recruits simply see that this is just the beginning. And they more and more want to be part of it.”

Virginia Football’s 2019 Class, By The Numbers

POSITION

1 QB – Robert Harvey, Jr.
2 RB – Mike Hollins, Seneca Milledge
3 WR – Nathaniel Beal III, Dorien Goddard, Dontayvion Wicks
4 OL – Kariem Al Soufi, Ja’Quay Hubbard, Jonathan Leech, Zachary Teter
2 DL – Jowon Briggs, Ben Smiley III
4 LB – Josh Ahern, Nick Jackson, D’Sean Perry, Hunter Stewart
5 DB – Chayce Chalmers (safety), Antonio Clary (safety), Fentrell Cypress II (corner), Tenyeh Dixon (corner), Major Williams (corner)

Virginia needs immediate impact players on the defensive line, and I feel the Hoos landed two in Briggs and Smiley. The Hoos continue to attract quality linebackers. After signing seven linebackers in the previous two classes, UVA signed four more in this class, including the 4-star Stewart and Virginia legacy Nick Jackson. Defensive back features five signees, including two projected safeties and three projected corners.

On offense, Virginia addressed the skill positions as well as the line. UVA landed another dual-threat quarterback to the pipeline in Robert Harvey, Jr., as well as two very promising running backs who could see the field next season. The Hoos went with size at receiver, landing three in total.

LOCATION

Virginia mined Florida for six of its 20 signees. The Cavaliers continue to enjoy recruiting success in the Sunshine State under Mendenhall. Virginia signed four prospects from Florida in 2018 and three more in 2017. The only state UVA has more prospects from in Mendenhall’s first three full classes as Cavalier head coach is Virginia with 14, although in the last two classes the Hoos have signed 10 Florida kids and six in-state prospects in total.

In addition to the six Florida recruits, Coach Mendenhall and company landed three prospects from the Commonwealth, two prospects each from Washington (D.C.) schools, Georgia and Louisiana, and one prospect each from Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Germany.

PLAYER RANKINGS

Virginia signed three prospects with at least one 4-star ranking by the major national recruiting outlets Rivals.com and 247Sports.com. Ohio defensive tackle Jowon Briggs, an Under Armour All-American, is a consensus 4-star prospect. Rivals.com also ranks offensive lineman Ja’Quay Hubbard and linebacker Hunter Stewart on the 4-star level.

Additionally, Indian River (Chesapeake, VA) defensive lineman Ben Smiley III becomes UVA’s most highly rated prospect from the state of Virginia in Mendenhall’s first three classes. Smiley is rated the no. 14 senior in the state by 247 and the no. 16 senior in the state by Rivals. Lindell Stone (2017) and Grant Misch (2018) were Virginia’s most highly rated in-state recruits before this class, with both rated no. 20 in the state by 247 and no. 23 in the state by Rivals.

2018 Rivals Player Rankings (Signees Only)

– Three 4 stars – Briggs, Hubbard, Stewart
– Fifteen 3 stars – Beal, Chalmers, Clary, Cypress, Goddard, Harvey, Jr., Hollins, Jackson, Milledge, Perry, Smiley, Teter, Wicks, Williams
– Two 2 stars – Dixon, Leech

247Sports (Signees only)

Aside from the 4-star Briggs, the rest of Virginia’s class is rated on the 3-star level.

EARLY SIGNING PERIOD NOTABLES

“RENAISSANCE MAN” JOWON BRIGGS

Briggs gives Virginia one of its most highly rated recruits in school history. But as talented as the Walnut Hills (Cincinnati, OH) defensive tackle is on the field (I look for him to earn a spot in the rotation as a true freshman), he is just as talented off of it. Consider this …

“He’s exceptional,” Mendenhall said of Briggs and his performance in the above video. “And visiting his high school, which is phenomenal, there’s private rooms where violin and piano and voice is all being practiced. One of the choir teachers stopped his class and they gave us an impromptu acapella presentation just because we were there. By the way, when Jowon got us — he left his class which was engineering, they were building chairs out of cardboard to see which could be the most weight-bearing. So there was that competition going, which followed a roller coaster competition design that was previous years. So there was engineering. There were the arts. And then every class was just engaged. So Jowon is — he’s a renaissance man. He’s UVA. And he could probably walk into any field here and have success right from the beginning.”

MORE IMPRESSIVE CHARACTERS

When he was 14 years old, Ja’Quay Hubbard weighed in at 437 pounds. He took control of his weight issues, though, and dropped over 100 pounds while also becoming a coveted offensive line recruit. Virginia’s official listing of the talented offensive lineman is 6’6”, 330 pounds. Quite a story of perseverance and determination, which you can read more about by clicking here.

Seneca Milledge, meanwhile, has overcome questions about his height to become a major FBS recruit. The 5’6”, 170 pounds discussed his doubters, UVA and more in this video …

UVA CONTINUES TO ADDRESS THE OFFENSIVE LINE

Virginia signed five offensive line prospects in each of the previous two classes. The Cavaliers signed four promising prospects in the class of 2019.

Mendenhall discussed the 2019 haul that now includes Al Soufi as well as Hubbard, Teter and Leech. The latter attends the same high school as UVA class of 2017 center recruit Tyler Fannin, who impressed last summer before going down with an injury that ended his season before it began.

“Our current players, their job then is they have to train so fiercely that they don’t get passed,” Mendenhall said. “And ultimately then that friction elevates the whole group, which is what we need. We not only need numbers but we need mindset. And I think this class and these additions will be really helpful.”

NEW ASSISTANT MAKES INSTANT IMPACT ON RECRUITING TRAIL, HELPS LAND POTENTIAL INSTANT IMPACT RB HOLLINS

Virginia added Louisiana native Ricky Brumfield to its staff as special teams coach last January. Not long after, the Cavaliers extended a scholarship offer to running back Mike Hollins, who in my opinion is one of the gems of this class.

Led by Brumfield, UVA would land Hollins as well as wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks. While Mendenhall is high on Wicks’ potential as an outside receiver, I’d be mildly surprised if Hollins isn’t seeing playing time next season. The 5’10”, 214-pound senior helped one of the nation’s best high school football programs, University Lab in Baton Rouge, to a second-straight state title in 2018.

“Mike Hollins is the next version of Jordan Ellis with probably more speed and more productivity coming out of high school,” Mendenhall said. “I think he was the best running back in the state of Louisiana. He was the MVP of the state championship game. I think he’s powerful. I think he has great vision. I think he’s durable. I think he’s tough. Man, is he productive. I really like him.”

“When I say comparable to JE, you’ll see his body is similar. He’s physical and he’s compact. But he’s also dynamic,” Mendenhall added.

IN-STATE RECRUITING

How important is in-state recruiting to Virginia’s success? That’s a subject that may be up for debate give Virginia’s out-of-state success the past two classes. We do know, though, that Coach Mendenhall wants to have more in-state success moving forward.

“Put it this way … the closer the proximity the more the importance,” Mendenhall said while talking to reporters last week. “You work your way out from there.”

Just as it did in 2018, Virginia football signed three in-state prospects in 2019. UVA inked eight student athletes from the Commonwealth in 2017, Coach Mendenhall’s first full class as Cavalier head coach. The commitment numbers may not be reflecting in-state success, but Virginia’s head coach is optimistic that local interest in his program is growing.

“I think we’re improving significantly,” Mendenhall said during his Signing Day presser. “And most of that has happened because doors are being opened with our progress and it’s so noticeable. And so the intrigue now is opening doors and players are more interested and again relationships are being established with my staff and the high school coaches. And then so many of them are coming to see us practice. And what they thought and what they see, they usually leave very impressed. And there’s just momentum that’s being generated. And we have a saying in our program, right, trust is built with time and consistency. So it’s now been three years of time with consistency of behavior, treatment and results. And so trust is starting to be established, which yields results.”

ANY MORE NEEDS TO FILL IN 2019?

“I really feel like our needs have been addressed,” Mendenhall said. “So we could stop now and I’m comfortable and confident and happy with our class and really excited about the direction and the future of our program. If you then start to say extra credit, you know, what now is possible, there’s always bridges. And so we could still use another bridge in terms of a graduate transfer or two. Offensive line, still, we need a graduate transfer, if we’re talking extra credit. We don’t need one. But it would be an extra.

“Same thing at receiver, outside receiver. A graduate transfer would help give us an additional number there. Those two positions are probably at the biggest deficit still in terms of succession planning, numbers and ability for what I’d like to see.

“The next position would be possibly another defensive lineman if we could find an exceptional defensive lineman, similar to Jowon, Ben Smiley, if we could find another player similar to those two, it would be in that order, if I were then saying to finish this, even though right now I’m good, but if to say, okay, if we kept working and there were possibilities where might they be, probably there.”

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