The University of Virginia football program’s most highly decorated recruit in the Bronco Mendenhall era has decided to transfer. Jowon Briggs, a second-year defensive tackle who started all seven games for the Hoos this season, has entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch and 247Sports. The standout sophomore is no longer listed on Virginia football’s official roster.
Neither Coach Mendenhall nor Briggs have commented on the development, which is a big blow to an already thin Virginia defensive line.
Briggs enrolled on Grounds in the summer of 2019 following a stellar career at Walnut Hills High School (Cincinnati, OH), where he was an Under Armour All-American and Rivals (No. 73) and 247Sports (No. 116) top 120 player in the nation in his class. His primary recruiter was former UVA defensive line coach Vic So’oto, who departed for the same position at USC this past offseason.
Briggs played in 13 of 14 games as a true freshman, earning seven starts during UVA’s historic 2019 campaign. He earned a bigger role this season for the 3-4 Cavaliers, and through seven games the 6’1”, 310-pound sophomore totaled 20 tackles with four tackles for loss, including three sacks.
In addition to being a force on the football team, Briggs was a member of the University Singers chorus ensemble at UVA.
What’s Next For The Hoos?
UVA has had defensive line depth concerns since the preseason, when Aaron Faumui, a major contributor from last season, opted out due to coronavirus concerns. Since game five versus Miami the Hoos have been without starting defensive end and team captain Richard Burney, who is sidelined for the season due to a medical condition. Burney started five games before being ruled out.
Including Briggs, Burney and Faumui, Virginia is now down three players who were – or were expected to be – major rotational players on the defensive line this season. UVA has also been without redshirt freshman Ben Smiley III, a player who received some time as a true freshman in 2019, because of injury.
Jahmeer Carter has been an impactful player as a true freshman. The 6’2”, 305-pound first year has played in all seven games for the Cavaliers. Though he has not started a game, Carter has been a consistent part of the rotation. In UVA’s traditional 3-man front, he is most likely to take Briggs’ spot at the nose with senior Mandy Alonso and graduate transfer Adeeb Atariwa starting at the ends.
Nusi Malani, a 6’6”, 250-pound true freshman, has played in five games. The California native saw his role expand this past Saturday. After seeing 18 defensive snaps combined versus Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest and North Carolina, Malani played 25 defensive snaps and totaled two unassisted tackles in the win over Louisville.
Discussing Malani’s contributions during his November 16 press conference, Mendenhall shed some light on the future of the Cavalier defensive line.
“We are looking to increase our length, both at the nose tackle and the defensive end spot, similar to…We got faster success in recruiting outside linebackers with length. So, yes, we would like longer defensive linemen with more height, with more range and more developmental capabilities, meaning we can add not only athleticism and span, but we can add basically size to that over time. We really like Nusi, as he’s playing as a true first year. We are thin at the defensive line, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not contributing at a level that has earned him a chance to play, because he has. Su [Olasunkonmi Agunloye] is another player that we’re really excited about and encouraged by and already in our program, with Ben Smiley, with existing length, even though he’s been out with an injury. Those three players in terms of length, reflect more of the direction we’ll be going over time. I believe there is more upside in potential in terms of growing within our program and developing those type of players.”
For the remainder of this season, look for Alonso, Atariwa, Carter and Malani to play most of the snaps. Su Agunloye (#71), a 6’6”, 270-pound true freshman Mendenhall mentioned above, Jordan Redmond (#76), Samson Reed (#92) and walk-on Andrew Yavinsky (#46) are the only other defensive linemen with jersey numbers; however, none have played on defense this season.
Mendenhall could look to the offensive line for defensive line depth as well. Redshirt junior Tommy Christ was a defensive lineman his first two-and-a-half years – he redshirted in 2017 – before moving to the offensive line during the 2019 campaign. He entered 2020 as an offensive lineman but has the experience to move back if necessary.