Last season was the first in which a true freshman – or anyone who has not utilized a redshirt season – could play up to four games and maintain redshirt status. Of the 13 true freshmen who played for Virginia football in 2018, nine played more than four games – running back Wayne Taulapapa, wide receivers Tavares Kelly, Billy Kemp and Ugo Obasi, offensive tackle Bobby Haskins, defensive linemen Jordan Redmond and Aaron Faumui, and outside linebacker Noah Taylor. Five others played in four or less, thus preserving redshirt status. That group included quarterback Brennan Armstrong, walk-on running back Perris Jones, defensive end-turned-tight end Grant Misch, placekicker Hunter Pearson and defensive back Joseph White.
Which true freshmen might see playing time for the Hoos in 2019? As Bronco Mendenhall builds this program, the ideal scenario probably includes redshirting the majority of players in each class. In year four of the Mendenhall era, however, I still see a solid number of players contributing more than four games for the Hoos.
39 – First Year Predictions
Biggest True Freshman Contributor
Mike Hollins, Running Back
As Kris Wright noted in his EDGE 50 Thoughts: Workhorse piece, Coach Mendenhall wants a primary ball carrier at tailback. Quarterback Bryce Perkins of course will be a significant part of UVA’s rushing attack, but who will be the tailback to counter him the way Jordan Ellis did last season? Junior PK Kier and sophomore Wayne Taulapapa are in contention along with true freshman Mike Hollins. Kier and Taulapapa have the experience, maybe not in terms of carries but in terms of being in a major college program for at least one year. However, Hollins comes from a talented prep program that was nationally ranked by USA Today and, in my opinion, has the biggest upside of any of UVA’s running backs. Even if he does not become the featured back, I would be surprised if Hollins does not receive significant carries this season. I love his combination of power, speed, and balance, and I think his prep experience will have prepared him well for major college football.
True Freshmen Playing More Than Four Games
– Mike Hollins, Running Back
– Ja’Quay Hubbard, Offensive Lineman
Hubbard, a 4-star recruit out of Pennsylvania, could help with depth on the offensive line in light of the injury to Alex Gellerstedt, who some had projected as UVA’s starting right tackle. The Hoos should field a solid starting five, but depth remains a concern. Hubbard is talented. I also see Kariem Al Soufi as a wild card here. He has size but will the step up in competition – Al Soufi played high school ball in Germany – be too much? If not, he could work his way into playing time on the interior line.
– Jowon Briggs and Ben Smiley III, Defensive Line
— Vic So’oto (@Coach_Sooto) August 4, 2019
Virginia is loaded on the defensive line, but the unit has two seniors in Eli Hanback and Richard Burney and it would be beneficial to get the Under Armour All-American Briggs and top Tidewater prospect Smiley III significant experience to prepare for those departures. Besides, those two could make a talented D-line even more deep and competitive in 2019.
– Nick Jackson and Hunter Stewart, Linebacker
Linebacker also appears deep at Virginia, but I think the Hoos could use more depth, especially with Mack being in his final year and Snowden possibly an NFL Draft prospect if he turns in another big-time season. At the very least, Jackson and Stewart are terrific prospects who can run and who could be major factors on special teams.
– Chayce Chalmers and Antonio Clary, Defensive Back
I think there is an opportunity for these two January enrollees to see time at safety, where starters Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson have had some injury issues and backup Chris Moore missed all of last season because of health reasons. Nick Grant is unproven as a junior. As is the case with Jackson and Stewart, Chalmers and Clary could at least help on special teams while they wait their turn.
True Freshmen Playing Four Games Or Less
– Seneca Milledge, Running Back
I could easily see a scenario where the Sunshine State track and football star plays more than four games because of his blazing speed. However, Kris Wright reported that Milledge had his knee wrapped at practice last Friday and sat out, so we’ll see how serious this is in the coming weeks.
– Nathaniel Beal III, Dorien Goddard and Dontayvion Wicks, Wide Receiver
Virginia may not need the true freshmen receivers to play a lot. That depends, though, on how those players not named Dubois and Reed perform. There could be an opportunity for the trio of true freshman to carve out some time. Goddard, who has impressive size at 6’3”, 220 pounds, has made strides on and off the field, rising in the ranks conditioning-wise and earning praise from teammates.
“I’m impressed with the way he came in, just doing the little things. Someone who respects the older guys. I think he has made a huge transition,” junior wide receiver Terrell Jana said of Goddard, who at last check was wearing orange in workouts. A player starts by wearing white, and then he can achieve gray, orange, blue, and then black, which is the highest mark.
Goddard, who had the benefit of enrolling last January and had a “great spring” according to Jana, and Beal III, who is 6’4”, 210 pounds, give Virginia more size at wide receiver. Mendenhall has said receivers with size like that are “always open,” and he may look to take advantage of that with these two this season, at least situationally. Meanwhile, Wicks is a terrific athlete who earned a 4-star rating from 247Sports.
The wide receiver position appears open behind Dubois and Reed. Anyone could emerge, which is why I think we’ll see at least one of these true freshmen on the field at some point this season.
– D’Sean Perry, Linebacker
Charles Snowden has one outside linebacker spot locked down. Noah Taylor and Matt Gahm are the likely frontrunners opposite him. Perry, a 6’3”, 230-pound prospect out of Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL), appears to have good physicality and pass rushing ability, and he could help bolster the depth here.
– Fentrell Cypress II and Major Williams, Cornerback
Both of these players have speed and, according to this Daily Progress article, have responded well early to the strength program. There isn’t much proven depth at corner behind Bryce Hall and Darius Bratton, so one of these true freshmen could earn some time and help on special teams.
True Freshmen Playing In Zero Games
I think these players simply need a year or more to develop and/or are behind a logjam of talent.
– R.J. Harvey, Quarterback
– Luke Wentz, Quarterback
– Kariem Al Soufi, Offensive Lineman
– Jonathan Leech, Offensive Lineman
– Zachary Teter, Offensive Lineman
– Josh Ahern, Linebacker
– Jairus Satiu, Linebacker
– Tenyeh Dixon, Cornerback
Preferred Walk-On(s) to Watch
– Special teamers Justin Duenkel and Enzo Anthony
Coach Mendenhall mentioned Duenkel when talking to reporters about the competition at punter last Friday.
“It’s open competition,” Mendenhall said Friday. “Nash Griffin is a very good punter, which I thought in spring he would be the punter, but Brian was more effective. Then we have another player that we really like in Justin Duenkel. It’s much like the running back position – by the end of camp, I hope we have a better idea. I don’t anticipate having a kicker that’s doing everything, but if he earns and keeps that job then I’m certainly not afraid to do that, but I’d rather have a place kicker and I’d rather have a punter if possible.”
Duenkel was highly regarded as a placekicker coming out of high school. While Delaney handling all duties is a very possible option and Griffin is showing well at punter, Duenkel could be a name to remember at kicker or punter.
Meanwhile, Anthony was one of the top long-snapper prospects in the class of 2019. With Joe Spaziani gone, the long snapper spot is open.
50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
- 50 – Is Being Favored A Good Thing?
- 49 – What Is Bryce Hall’s Ceiling?
- 48 – What It Takes To Win The Coastal
- 47 – Will Tavares Kelly Have A Breakout Season?
- 46 – Defensive Line Reboot
- 45 – Secondary Contenders
- 44 – Stars & Sleepers
- 43 – One For All?
- 42 – Fan Interest Thermometer
- 41 – Workhorse Search
- 40 – More Points