Seventeen true freshmen, including 15 scholarship players and two recruited walk-ons, saw playing time for the University of Virginia football program in 2019. Nine of those players played in four games or less, significant because NCAA rules now allow for players to play in four or less games and maintain redshirt status.
True First Years Who Did Not Redshirt
Here is rundown of those first years who played in five games or more, therefore losing their redshirt status. Eight true freshmen fell into this category. They still have the option of taking a redshirt year later in their careers.
– Nick Jackson, ILB, 14 games played
After earning praise for his play in fall camp, Jackson was thrust into a more significant role following inside linebacker Rob Snyder’s injury four games in. Though Virginia featured senior captain Jordan Mack and junior Zane Zandier as its starters, Jackson moved into the rotation with Snyder’s injury. The Georgia native wound up playing in all 14 games, starting two at inside linebacker – UVA’s crucial win over North Carolina to kick of a perfect November run and the Capital One Orange Bowl. Jackson finished with 28 tackles (11 solo), a tackle for loss, and a half a sack. Good experience to build on next season.
– Jowon Briggs, NT, 13 games played
Briggs, Virginia’s most highly rated recruit of the Mendenhall era before Andrew Gentry signed last month, didn’t disappoint in his first year. Briggs bolstered an already solid group of defensive linemen, earning seven starts and finishing with 19 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack. His lone sack came against North Carolina.
– Mike Hollins, RB, 13 games played
Hollins never quite broke through at running back his first year in Charlottesville, but he did show flashes of his ability with a 78-yard, 2-touchdown performance against William & Mary and a 27-yard, 1-touchdown outing versus Liberty. Hollins finished with 21 carries for 112 yards and three scores, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Sophomore Wayne Taulapapa served as Virginia’s primary running back because of his consistency and reliability. Taulapapa scored 12 touchdowns and proved to be a solid, reliable contributor. However, I still feel Hollins has the highest upside of any of Virginia’s running backs as a pure runner.
– Enzo Anthony, LS, 13 games played
Anthony and redshirt freshman Lee Dudley shared special teams snapping duties, with Anthony handling punt snapping responsibility and Dudley the primary field goal snapper. Anthony, a recruited walk-on, played well in his role.
– Jairus Satiu, LB, 13 games played
Satiu earned a spot on Virginia’s special teams and finished the season with one tackle.
– Dontayvion Wicks, WR, 10 games played
Mendenhall used the word “dynamic” when describing the 6’1”, 205-pound wide receiver. Ultimately, Wicks wasn’t targeted often. However, from what we did see he looks the part physically and athletically, blending solid size with good overall athleticism and speed. He showed his potential with two receptions for 49 and a touchdown versus Liberty. He also had a 12-yard catch against Duke earlier in the season. Wicks is absolutely a candidate to emerge in 2020. Whether he’s ready to handle the challenge is the question.
– Tenyeh Dixon, DB, 9 games played
For me, Dixon and Satiu were the two biggest surprises of those players who played in five or more games. Dixon primarily played special teams but did see some action on defense his true freshman season. The 5’11”, 185-pound Washington (D.C.) native could prove to be versatile performer in the defensive backfield in years to come.
– Antonio Clary, S, 5 games played
Clary, who enrolled in January of 2019, was unlucky his true freshman season. A preseason camp injury delayed his debut until Virginia’s fourth game, against Old Dominion. He saw the field against ODU, Notre Dame, Miami, Duke (he had four tackles versus the Blue Devils) and Louisville before suffering a season-ending injury. Because he played in five games, Clary was unable to utilize 2019 as a redshirt season. The staff appears high on Clary, who is one to watch at safety in the coming seasons.
Played, But Redshirt Status Preserved
Running back/wide receiver/returner Seneca Milledge, wide receiver Dorien Goddard, offensive linemen Ja’Quay Hubbard and Jonathan Leech, defensive lineman Ben Smiley III, inside linebacker Josh Ahern, cornerbacks Fentrell Cypress II and Major Williams, and placekicker Justin Duenkel fell into this category. Some notables from this group include …
– Milledge, who is only 5’6” but possesses blazing speed, and Goddard, a 6’3” receiver who enrolled last January, were the only two first years who played in four games. Milledge saw most of his action in place of Joe Reed as kick returner. He finished with eight returns for 206 yards, an average of 25.8 yards per return. His longest return was 41 yards versus Liberty. All of his returns came against Liberty and Clemson.
Goddard has a big frame at 6’3”, 225 pounds. Depending on how the roster shakes out, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get a look at tight end given UVA’s lack of depth there.
– Josh Ahern, who UVA landed out of Lake Braddock High School in Burke, Virginia, impressed the coaches. Coach Mendenhall expressed optimism about the future of the inside linebacker position with Nick Jackson and Ahern. Jackson was listed on the two-deep throughout 2019, while Ahern emerged on the depth chart later in the year. He played three games, contributing two tackles versus Duke.
– Four-star offensive lineman Hubbard played in two games. He dressed for the entire season as far as I could tell. Fellow offensive lineman Leech emerged to play in two games during the year as well.
– Duenkel, a recruited walk-on placekicker, showed promise out of high school. I think he surpassed expectations, though, and saw action in two games. If Duenkel is able to build off of this season’s performance, the future of the kicker position at Virginia seems in good hands. Starter Brian Delaney returns in 2020 for his senior season. Scholarship placekicker Hunter Pearson will be a redshirt sophomore and Duenkel will be a redshirt freshman in 2020.
Scholarship First Years Who Did Not Play
Eight true freshman scholarship players did not play in a game last season, including quarterback R.J. Harvey, quarterback/athlete Luke Wentz, wide receiver Nathaniel Beal III, offensive linemen Kariem Al Soufi and Zachary Teter, linebackers D’Sean Perry and Hunter Stewart, and safety Chayce Chalmers.
Of these players, only Beal III is not yet listed as a redshirt freshman in the 2020 season (Virginia football updated its roster). The Houston (TX) is instead listed as a sophomore despite missing the entire year with a knee injury. Beal III reportedly placed his name into the transfer portal in December only to reportedly (per 247Sports) remove it this month.
Both quarterbacks in this class could wind up at other positions. Wentz, a 6’3”, 200-pound rising second year out of Germany, could end up at receiver if quarterback doesn’t work out. Mendenhall noted around the middle of the season that adapting to American football was proving to be a slow process for Wentz and Al Soufi, UVA’s two European recruits in 2019. Wentz’ development was also impacted as the result of a preseason injury that sidelined him for the season according to his VirginiaSports.com profile. Meanwhile, Harvey will be slotted at quarterback the entire offseason, including this spring. Now is his chance to prove to the coaches he can play quarterback on the major D1 level.