50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Jersey Selection Musings

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Nick Grant (pictured right) was one of 36 players to participate in the first round of jersey selection. He chose no. 1, which was worn the previous three seasons by Jordan Ellis, who earned the first overall selection in 2016, 2017 & 2018. Grant didn’t have the first pick, but his jersey selection was appropriate given how well he has performed this offseason. ~ Photo courtesy Jim Daves/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Virginia football held its second round of jersey selections this past Sunday. One week after 36 players picked jerseys in the first round, 32 more – including seven true freshmen – claimed numbers on August 18. One more round of jersey selections is expected during fall camp.

Jersey selection and its importance is the latest subject of our “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series.

24 – Jersey Selection Musings

“Earned not given” is a slogan the Virginia football program adopted when Bronco Mendenhall accepted the head coaching position in December of 2015. As part of the “earned not given” mentality, Coach Mendenhall decided in his first year that each player would have to earn his jersey. The process remains in place heading into Year 4 of the Mendenhall era. Not only that, but it has become a part of the fabric of the program.

“When we first did it, I thought it was a bit unorthodox and it was strange to everybody,” senior defensive lineman Eli Hanback is quoted as saying in this VirginiaSports.com “Recap” feature, which includes some great inside information including the bit on jersey selection. “But what Coach Mendenhall did was really put a premium on your work in the off-season and what we have done to this point and it shows who the leadership is and who the leadership thinks deserves a jersey. It just makes the selection more special since we have to earn it every year. I think it makes it very personal since it comes from our leadership. It shows which guys have worked to earn the spot they’re at.”

Senior Reed Kellam, a reserve linebacker who plays on the kickoff and kick return units, earned the honor of being the first Cavalier to pick his jersey. He discussed what picking first – a distinction former Cavalier running back Jordan Ellis earned each of the three previous seasons – meant to him in this feature by Jeff White.

“It was a huge surprise. I thought I maybe had a chance to get a number, but definitely not first pick,” Kellam said. “I think that’s the biggest honor anybody can ever get in this program, selecting the jersey first. Coming from my teammates, it means a lot.”

I’m not sure if Coach Mendenhall intended for jersey selection to become an annual tradition, but that’s exactly what has happened. It’s a perfect fit with the culture Mendenhall expects from his program. The team’s embrace of the process is a great sign for the present and the future of the Virginia football program by keeping the “earned not given” approach at the forefront.

Jersey Selection: Position Breakdown

– At quarterback, starter Bryce Perkins and backup Brennan Armstrong picked in the first round. Perkins and Armstrong are clearly the 1-2 on the depth chart. Perkins will don no. 3 once again, while Armstrong is no. 10 after wearing no. 98 last season. Redshirt sophomore Lindell Stone (no. 36) and true freshman R.J. Harvey (no. 40) picked in the second round. I’ll discuss Harvey more later in this feature.

– Replacing the leadership as well as the production of Jordan Ellis is a challenge, but the fact that five running backs were rewarded with first round jersey selection is a positive. Senior Chris Sharp (no. 31), juniors Lamont Atkins (no. 5), P.K. Kier (no. 6) and Jamari Peacock (no. 27), and sophomore Wayne Taulapapa (no. 21) picked in the first round. Heralded true freshman Mike Hollins (no. 20) and redshirt freshman walk on Perris Jones selected in the second round. All except Jones are expected to see playing time on offense, although perhaps Jones, who earned his way onto the kickoff return unit as a true freshman, could surprise.

– Twelve wide receivers have numbers after the first two rounds, hopefully a good sign for a unit looking to replace one of last year’s most productive players in Olamide Zaccheaus. Picking in the first round were Joe Reed (no. 2), Hasise Dubois (no. 8), Terrell Chatman (no. 9), Terrell Jana (no. 13) and Hayden Mitchell. No surprise at all with Reed, Dubois and Jana. Ben Hogg (no. 18), Chuck Davis (no. 19), Billy Kemp (no. 80), Brandon White (no. 82), Dorien Goddard (no. 84), Ugo Obasi (no. 86) and Tavares Kelly Jr. (no. 88, a change from last year when he was no. 27) picked in round two.

One potential major contributor, if healthy, who does not yet have a jersey is graduate transfer Dejon Brissett. He has been out with injury, likely the reason why he has not earned a jersey to this point.

– Ten offensive linemen have jerseys, with four scoring first round selections and six more earning jerseys last Sunday. Dillon Reinkensmeyer (no. 79), Ryan Nelson (no. 54), Chris Glaser (no. 69) and Ben Trent (no. 64) made first-round picks. Reinkensmeyer, Nelson and Glaser all have played major roles at UVA so far and are expected to start in 2019. It appears they are emerging as the leaders of the O-line. Joe Bissinger (no. 52), Olusegun Oluwatimi (no. 55), Tyler Fannin (no. 63), Derek Devine (no. 67), Bobby Haskins (no. 70) and Ryan Swoboda (no. 72) were part of the second round of selections. These 10 could well make up the two-deep – Oluwatimi, Fannin, Haskins and Swoboda seem to be battling it out for starting center and tackle roles right now.

– At tight end, senior starter Tanner Cowley (no. 44) picked his jersey in round one. Redshirt freshman Grant Misch (no. 85) picked in round two. As of now, that’s it from the tight end position. Expect to see a lot of both players this season.

– Seven players on the defensive line have picked jerseys. Upperclassmen leaders Richard Burney (no. 16), Eli Hanback (no. 58) and Mandy Alonso (no. 91) picked in round one. So did sophomore Aaron Faumui (no. 94). Tommy Christ (no. 50), Jordan Redmond (no. 76), and true freshman sensation Jowon Briggs (no. 99) picked in round two.

– Seven linebackers earned the right to pick in the first round, including Kellam, Jordan Mack (no. 4 this season after being no. 37 his first three years), Charles Snowden (no. 11), Rob Snyder (no. 22), Zane Zandier (no. 33), Matt Gahm (no. 56) and Noah Taylor (no. 14). Mack, Snowden, Zandier, Snyder, Taylor and Gahm figure to play significant roles this season, so I think it’s a strong sign that those players picked first. Elliott Brown (no. 17), T.C. Harrison (no. 38) and true freshman Nick Jackson (no. 42) picked in round two and could be factors on defense as well this season.

– At defensive back, 13 players have jerseys. Nick Grant, who has the no. 1 jersey held previously by Jordan Ellis (it’s fitting given the offseason he has had), and Bryce Hall (no. 34) are the only likely cornerbacks (Hall for sure, Grant could play either spot but likely will be corner) who picked in the first round. Cornerback Darrius Bratton, who reportedly may be out for the season, also picked in the first round. Sure-fire corners Heskin Smith (no. 23), Germane Crowell (no. 41) and Jaylon Baker (no. 39) have jerseys now, too, after last Sunday.

All four players projected in the safety rotation – Joey Blount (no. 29), Brenton Nelson (no. 28), Chris Moore (no. 7) and De’Vante Cross (no. 15) – earned jerseys in the first round. That’s what is expected from a group of upperclassmen. Potential safeties Joe White (no. 25), Antonio Clary (no. 30) and Coen King (no. 49) picked in the second round.

– Special teams kickers Brian Delaney (K/P), Justin Duenkel (K) and Nash Griffin (P) have their jerseys. Griffin (no. 81) picked in the first round, while Delaney (no. 26) and Duenkel (no. 43) picked in round two.

Chatman Gains Teammates’ Respect

I’m not calling it a surprise, but it was noteworthy to see graduate transfer wide receiver Terrell Chatman among the group of players who took part in the first round of jersey selection. Chatman, who will wear no. 9, has obviously impressed his Virginia teammates in the short time he has been in Charlottesville. The 6’3”, 190-pound senior had three catches in his entire career at Arizona State. Clearly, though, he is very serious about finishing his collegiate career in strong fashion.

Nash Griffin’s Resilience

As a member of the 2016 Class, Nash Griffin accepted a preferred walk-on opportunity as a punter/placekicker with Virginia over Michigan and Northwestern, who extended similar opportunities. Griffin was unable to land a starting kicker role in either of his first two seasons. Although he served as the holder on field goals last season, Griffin hopes for a bigger role heading in his junior campaign.

Griffin has pushed hard to replace the departed Coleman. However, after spring practice Coach Mendenhall indicated that Brian Delaney, who handles kickoffs and field goals, had the edge at punter. Undeterred, Griffin has continued to work hard this offseason, earning “Dirty Dozen” honors for strength & conditioning before earning the right to pick his jersey in the first round – he was the only kicker to receive the honor, as Delaney and true freshman Justin Duenkel picked their jerseys in the second round.

Griffin may fall short of Delaney, but the work he has put in this offseason is admirable and is very much a positive heading into the season.

Seven True Freshmen Earn Jerseys

Under Armour All-American Jowon Briggs, who is UVA’s most highly rated recruit of the Mendenhall era, is among the true freshmen who selected jerseys last Sunday. The full list is as follows:

Jowon Briggs (DT, No. 99)
Antonio Clary (DB, No. 30)
Justin Duenkel (K/P, No. 43)
Dorien Goddard (WR, No. 84)
R.J. Harvey (QB, No. 40)
Mike Hollins (RB, No. 20)
Nick Jackson (LB, No. 42)

Based on early reports, Briggs, Hollins and Jackson are players we could see on the field early and often in 2019, and not just on special teams. Clary and Goddard enrolled in January and certainly have an opportunity to make the defensive back and wide receiver rotations. Meanwhile, Duenkel, who arrived at Virginia as a preferred walk on, has shown off a strong leg in practice and is at least providing some competition for Delaney as field goal kicker. It wouldn’t surprise to see him as the kickoff specialist this season.

Harvey is an interesting one. The 5’8” true freshman was recruited by Virginia to play quarterback. Barring some really bad news on the injury front, you won’t see Harvey as a quarterback this season. You could see him as a returner as he has good speed and is very physical. If he plays offense, running back and wide receiver are the likely options, probably in a limited role as the coaches also try and gauge what kind of quarterback he can become.

Second-Year Players to Watch

Some second-year players who could emerge this season and already have jerseys include …

RB – Wayne Taulapapa. The Hawaiian native is not your average sophomore, as he enrolled at UVA after two years serving a mission. He showed in the spring that he could factor strongly into the starting running back role vacated by Jordan Ellis.

WRs – Tavares Kelly Jr., Billy Kemp, Ugo Obasi. The opportunity is there at receiver. Kelly Jr. gained a lot of experience last season, but all three have potential.

TE – Grant Misch. Misch, who moved from defense to offense this offseason, is poised to play a significant role at tight end.

OL – Joe Bissinger, Derek Devine, Bobby Haskins. Haskins played as a true freshman and is competing for the starting right tackle spot. Bissinger had a great offseason, earning a spot on the “Dirty Dozen.”

DL – Aaron Faumui and Jordan Redmond. These two were thrown into the proverbial fire as true freshmen last season. It’ll be interesting to watch their growth this season, particularly Faumui, who earned a first-round jersey selection.

LB – Noah Taylor. Taylor didn’t see much time on defense last season, but he has been in the program since January of 2018 and has made significant gains this year.

DB – Jaylon Baker and Joe White. Baker has performed well at corner in fall camp. Given the injury situation, he has a great chance of seeing action. A highly regarded prospect out of Virginia Beach, White, who could play safety or cornerback, selected a jersey in the second round.

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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