While Virginia football struggled mightily in the placekicking department early in head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure, punting has been a different story.
Senior Nicholas Conte was an All-ACC First Team selection in 2016, Mendenhall’s first season as Cavalier head coach. Lester Coleman took over for Conte in 2017 and proceeded to earn All-ACC Second Team honors as a junior. Though he didn’t repeat the All-ACC feat as a senior, Coleman was solid overall in 2018. Nash Griffin has turned in similar solid performances each of the past two seasons, earning above average punting grades in 2019 and 2020 according to his Pro Football Focus.
UVA Punter Performances In The Mendenhall Era (Stats and Grades per Pro Football Focus)
NICHOLAS CONTE, 2016
– 68.8 overall grade per Pro Football Focus (No. 54 in the nation among punters with 25 or more attempts)
– 75 attempts, 44 yards per attempt (40 yards net average per punt)
– Had a punt of 50 yards or more in 11 of 12 games. In the other, he had a punt of 48 yards.
– 35 punts inside the opponents’ 20 yard line
LESTER COLEMAN, 2017
– 77.1 overall grade per Pro Football Focus (Tied for No. 19 in the nation among punters with 25 or more attempts)
– 76 attempts, 43.8 yards per attempt (37.6 yards per attempt net)
– Had a punt of 50 yards or more in 10 of 13 games. In six of those games, he had a punt of 60 yards or more.
– 31 punts inside the opponents’ 20
LESTER COLEMAN, 2018
– 69.8 overall grade per Pro Football Focus (No. 50 in the nation among punters with 25 or more attempts)
– 51 attempts, 41.8 yards per attempt (39 yards per attempt net)
Had a punt of 50 yards or more in 6 of 13 games, including punts of 78 and 70
– 22 punts inside the opponents’ 20
NASH GRIFFIN, 2019
– 72.1 overall grade per Pro Football Focus (No. 46 in the nation among punters with 25 or more attempts)
– 57 attempts, 41.9 yards per attempt (38 yards per attempt net)
– Had a punt of 50 yards or more in 5 of 14 games, including punts of 78 and 70
– 26 punts inside the opponents’ 20
NASH GRIFFIN, 2020
– 73.2 overall grade per Pro Football Focus (No. 31 in the nation among punters with 25 or more attempts)
– 42 attempts, 42.4 yards per attempt (39 yards per attempt net)
– Had a punt of 50 yards or more in seven of 10 games
– 13 punts inside the opponents’ 20
Griffin and Brian Delaney departed the program after the 2020 season. Those two were the prime contenders at the position the past two years, with Griffin winning the job and Delaney handling placekicking duties. UVA went through spring practice with walk-on Brendan Farrell, who has not played in any games his first two years in Charlottesville, as the only listed punter on the roster. As he has done throughout his tenure at UVA, Coach Mendenhall looked to the transfer portal for help. He found it in Florida graduate transfer Jacob Finn.
Finn spent five years at the University of Florida, earning a starting role for the first time in 2020. The 6’4”, 215-pound redshirt senior played well, receiving a 74 PFF overall punting grade that tied for No. 24 among punters with at least 25 attempts. Finn finished last season with 26 punts for 1,203 yards, a 46.3 yard-per-punt average that ranked fifth among FBS punters per PFF, and 14 punts that pinned Gator opponents inside the 20. Florida’s punting unit finished third in the nation among FBS schools in punting net average.
One of Finn’s best performances came in a close loss to LSU late in the season. He had four punts, including three blasts of 67, 56, and 52 yards that were all downed inside the 20. In the 2021 Cotton Bowl matchup with Oklahoma, Finn had two punt attempts for 99 yards, including a 59-yarder. Both punts pinned the Sooners inside the 20.
Taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility due to COVID and with Florida seemingly focused on using a 2020 recruit signee as its punter moving forward, Finn announced his transfer to UVA in May, soon after the Hoos concluded spring football. He wrote on Instagram, “This is just the beginning! Time to grind.”
Finn has his eye on building off of last season’s performance. Mendenhall stresses competition at all positions, so while there is always work to be done, Finn had the edge in the punting competition as of August 13.
“Finn, he’s currently is our punter as of today,” Mendenhall said.