From following thorough COVID-19 protocols to an extended preseason, University of Virginia football staff and players have endured a lot just to get to this Saturday’s season opener versus Duke. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall said it feels like a season has already been played, and Duke, while being the 2020 season opener, feels more like a bowl game scenario.
Given all the team has been through, junior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV feels “reward” is an apt description for the opportunity to play a live game. Saturday’s season opener represents even more for the Richmond (VA) native, who seeks to become a major part of the Virginia offense this season.
“I think it’s been around 12 weeks we’ve been here,” Kemp IV said in a videoconference with media on Tuesday (September 22). “All the preparation we’ve been doing. All the time I’ve spent as a backup just learning. Waited my turn. I knew eventually this day would come, and this is the day I’ve been waiting for. I just ultimately want to go out there and help the team any way I can. Can’t wait to get back on the field with the guys and hopefully come out with a win.”
As a true freshman, the 5’9”, 170-pound Kemp IV earned his way onto the field for seven of UVA’s 13 games in 2018. His most significant contribution came on one of the biggest stages – the 2018 Belk Bowl, in which he handled punt return duties against South Carolina.
Kemp IV proved up to the task against the Gamecocks, returning three punts for a respectable 31 yards in UVA’s 28-0 victory. Not overwhelming to be sure; however, he did not shy away from the big stage, a testament to his competitiveness and confidence.
“I feel like I’ve always had confidence and I feel like that’s important, being a smaller receiver,” Kemp IV said. “Coming out there, heart over height and with that confidence. I really think that was instilled in me back in high school, back at Highland Springs (where Kemp IV helped the Springers achieve two state championships). We have great players coming out of there every year. Everyday there is a competition. It’s either compete or basically get left behind. That’s how it is there, so I really feel like a lot of that confidence came from back in my hometown.”
In 2019, seniors Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois and junior Terrell Jana led the Virginia receiving corps with over 70 receptions apiece. Kemp IV made an impact as well, finishing with 35 catches for 289 yards and a touchdown, including a 9-catch, 66-yard performance in the ACC Championship loss to Clemson. A 51-yard performance in a close win over Georgia Tech and a key second-half touchdown against Virginia Tech were other highlights from last season.
With Reed and Dubois gone, Kemp IV is embracing the opportunity to be a featured player in 2020. He feels prepared thanks to those who have come before him and the experience of the previous two seasons.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve been behind great guys and great role models – Olamide Zaccheaus and last year Joe Reed,” Kemp IV said. “So, them really just teaching me the ropes, just taking notes, and watching them develop, I feel that’s really helped me develop into the role that I’m in now.”
“I have huge confidence in myself,” Kemp IV said. “When I first came in, I saw the confidence that O (Olamide Zaccheaus) had in himself. That really helped me improve my game. I just can’t wait to get out there and show people that I can be a help to the offense beside Jana. Just look forward to going out and doing what I can do.”
Count Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall and senior starting cornerback Nick Grant as those who have confidence in the junior wideout.
“They are the most consistent, durable and productive players of the receiver group so far,” Mendenhall said of Kemp IV and fellow junior Tavares Kelly during camp in August. “They’ve taken a really, really nice step forward that I’m so thankful for. It’s clearly noticeable that they’re a stage further than where they were a year ago, which is needed.”
“Billy Kemp has emerged as a five, six-reception in one drive type receiver,” Grant said.
Virginia will feature a new starting quarterback this season as Brennan Armstrong is set to take over for the departed Bryce Perkins. Kemp IV seems pleased with the connection he has had with the lefty redshirt sophomore heading into Saturday’s season opener.
“Me and BA’s chemistry have definitely grown over the offseason,” said Kemp IV, who is listed as a starter at wide receiver on the first official depth chart. “He’s a great quarterback. He can throw the ball wherever on the field, so our chemistry has been really good and I can’t wait to get out there and connect on the big plays with him.”
In addition to earning a starting role at wide receiver, Kemp IV is set to reprise his role as UVA’s starting punt returner. He beat out Kelly and graduate transfers Shane Simpson and D’Angelo Amos for the job. The latter is known for his punt return achievements at JMU.
“It means a lot for me to be the starter at that spot,” said Kemp IV, who had 23 returns for 137 yards in 2019. “It’s something I’ve been working at, something I hope to continue to do throughout my career and on to the next level. The competition was great. We have two, three other guys that are great back there, have performed well back there. I just want to do what’s best for the team, as in catch the ball, field every ball, and get the ball back to the offense, and that’s what I look forward to doing.”
More with Kemp IV
Kemp IV discussed several other topics with media on Tuesday, including …
Duke’s Defensive Secondary
“They like to play a lot of man,” Kemp IV said. “We’re very constantly talking about just winning our one-on-one matchups across the board. That goes for every week. Week in, week out, winning our one-on-ones. The game’s come down to one-on-ones being won, so that’s what we’re really focusing on doing this week.”
UVA’s 2020 Wide Receivers
“We can be as productive as last year and beyond,” Kemp IV said. “It just takes work. Never compare us to the last year’s team because we’re a different team, and we’re putting our best foot forward and coming out to work and compete every day. I look forward to seeing what we can do.”
His Relationship With Highland Springs Head Coach Loren Johnson, A Former Virginia Tech DB
“Me and Coach Johnson, we don’t even talk about the Hokie stuff versus UVA,” Kemp IV said. “I know he was very excited for me to come to UVA. His goal is to get every kid, every student, every player he has to college, no matter where it is. Our relationship is still strong to this day. He has taught me a lot and will always be a mentor to me.”
“He had a big impact on my life back in high school,” Kemp IV added.