Virginia Football Notes: Recruiting, Orange Bowl & More

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Bronco Mendenhall knows the importance of playing well in the Orange Bowl for the growth of the program. ~ Photo by Kris Wright

Bronco Mendenhall estimates he is about 6’1”. However, when mentioning the fact that the University of Virginia football program will play in the 2019 Orange Bowl – he says he is doing this frequently on the recruiting trail – the Cavalier head coach joked that he feels more like 6’5”.

Now one of the “New Year’s Six” bowls affiliated with the College Football Playoff, the Orange Bowl has long been one of the top tier bowls teams have strived to reach. No. 24 Virginia will get its first chance to play in the prestigious event when it takes on No. 9 Florida in Miami Gardens (FL) on December 30. Coach Mendenhall has made it abundantly clear how much is at stake for a Cavalier program that achieved back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2004/2005.

“This game means the world to us in terms of opportunity, in terms of growth, and in terms of the next step for our program,” Mendenhall said during a news conference with Florida head coach Dan Mullen on Wednesday (December 11).

“For the University of Virginia, as national prominence is emerging,” Mendenhall said. “Our game versus Virginia Tech and breaking that cycle, having the chance – even though we didn’t win the game – versus Clemson, and now to follow up with an Orange Bowl game, credibility’s being built with each game,” Mendenhall said.

“We look forward to capitalizing the best we can,” Mendenhall said.

Playing well against a quality opponent – Florida enters with a 10-2 record, it’s only losses coming to No. 1 LSU and No. 5 Georgia – on a large stage could have a large impact on recruiting. For UVA to become a consistent quality program, recruiting well year in and year out is a must. Mendenhall eyes a positive recruiting impact on several fronts, especially if his team plays well.

“We have, I believe it’s 15 [scholarship] players on our roster from the state of Florida,” Mendenhall said. “The area has been very strong and good for us, but the exposure, not only nationally but locally, and for young people to be able to see our program up close and personal, it’s essential because it’s been well documented the talent base of any program is essential.”

Recruiting Update

Much of Coach Mendenhall’s time since the ACC Championship has been spent on the recruiting trail. To give you an idea of his busy schedule, UVA’s head man noted during Wednesday’s Orange Bowl press conference that he spent the morning and afternoon recruiting ahead of the 4 p.m. presser. Once the event is over, he indicated he would pick up where he left off.

For FBS coaches who earn postseason invites, this month may now be one of the busiest months because of the December Early Signing Period. In addition to preparing for the bowl – in UVA’s case there was the conference championship as well – coaches are hitting the road recruiting. The Early Signing Period for the class of 2020 takes place next Wednesday (December 18) through Friday, so coaches are having in-home visits with commits, but the class of 2021 is certainly rising to the top of recruiting priorities as well.

One of Coach Mendenhall’s first stops following the ACC Championship was to Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach (VA). One of the top juniors in the nation, defensive back Tony Grimes, is a top priority of the Hoos there. UVA has reportedly offered a scholarship to Princess Anne class of 2021 defensive lineman Marquise Brunson as well.

In the class of 2020, UVA currently has 11 verbal commitments, including Adams (South Bend, IN) quarterback Ira Armstead, Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) center Jestus Johnson, and Louisiana defensive back Donovan Johnson, who posted photos from their recent in-home visits with the Cavalier coaches.

Virginia will host recruits on official visits this weekend, so stay tuned for a full rundown of those confirmed visitors as well as reports from their experiences. 247Sports.com predicts the Hoos could be closing in on another class of 2020 commitment. Episcopal (Alexandria, VA) senior defensive back Elijah Gaines, who announced on December 6 that he was reopening his recruitment three months after pledging to Penn State, is predicted by 247Sports analysts to choose Virginia (click here for Gaines’ 247Sports Crystal Ball feature).

The 6’2”, 190-pound Gaines included UVA when he released a top seven this past June. The list also included Duke, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Penn State and Syracuse.

Gaines is rated a 3-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals. Rivals has him as the no. 11 senior in Virginia, while 247Sports ranks him as the no. 12 senior in the Commonwealth.

Quotes, Notes & Tweets

– “Our players, all they’ve been doing is smiling since the game was announced,” Mendenhall said during the Orange Bowl press conference. He joked that the upcoming practices could wipe away some of the smiles.

– “It’s really fun to be with young people that cannot wait,” Mendenhall added of his team’s excitement about playing in the Orange Bowl.

– “Familiarity helps,” Mendenhall said of having played in Hard Rock Stadium – the site of the Orange Bowl – against Miami in the regular season. “It’s one less thing to manage in preparation.”

-North Carolina, NC State and Pittsburgh are now the only ACC teams that have not played in the Orange Bowl. Virginia was on that list before this season.

– Dan Mullen served as Quarterbacks Coach under Urban Meyer at Utah in 2003 and 2004. Bronco Mendenhall was defensive coordinator under Gary Crowton for those two seasons before taking over as Cougars head coach in 2005. Utah beat BYU 3-0 in 2003 and 52-21 in 2004.

Mendenhall complimented Meyer and Mullen for being one of the first to implement the read-option offensive attack that is widely used today.

– Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins has another reason to smile. In addition to cementing his place in Cavalier football lore with a terrific senior campaign, he can now officially call himself a Virginia graduate.

– Senior linebacker Jordan Mack was a finalist for the 2019 Campbell Trophy, an annual award given by the National Football Foundation to the nation’s top scholar athlete. Former Hoos Tom Burns and Micah Kiser are previous winners.

Mack didn’t win this year’s award, but as a finalist he was invited to New York for the NFF Annual Awards Dinner that took place on Tuesday, December 10. Below is coverage of Mack, an All-ACC Third-Team pick who boasts a 3.47 GPA and is majoring in Education, at the event (courtesy of Virginia Sports).

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3 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Loved seeing the coverage of this event. Congratulations to Jordan Mack! What an outstanding representative of the University of Virginia.

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