Virginia Football Signs Most Highly Rated Class In Mendenhall Era

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National Signing Day for the class of 2021 went as planned for the University of Virginia football program, which meant all 24 student athletes who had previously pledged to UVA signed, including four 4-star prospects and nine in-state recruits.

Virginia’s 2021 Class is the most highly acclaimed in the Bronco Mendenhall era. As of this writing, the group is rated No. 26 in the nation according to national recruiting outlets 247Sports and Rivals.com. No other class in the past five years rated better than 39 (class of 2019).

Washington state linebacker Josh McCarron is one of four Virginia football class of 2021 signees rated a 4-star by at least one national recruiting outlet. ~ Photo courtesy of McCarron’s Twitter account

“I really am thankful for this particular class,” Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall said of his fifth full recruiting class as Cavalier head coach. “It’s unprecedented in terms of the pandemic, the restrictions and the unique nature of their recruiting. So much of our communication has been virtual, has been online, has been through Zoom, but the volume of communication has probably exceeded that of any regular year of recruiting. And so there’s advantages through that, just in terms of accessibility, that we were able to leverage.

“The class shows growth, it shows progress, it shows momentum, it shows direction, it shows continued improvement, and not subtly, but pretty bluntly and boldly, of what’s happening in our program, the interest that we’re garnering, and the players are choosing up,” Mendenhall continued. “So a really positive day for the University of Virginia’s football program, for these young people, for their families, and for their futures, as it is for really anyone who chooses the University of Virginia, and I would also say for our football program.”

Eight linemen – four on each side of the ball – inked with the Cavaliers on Wednesday (Dec. 16), the first day of an Early Signing Period that will come to an end on Friday, December 18. Logan Taylor and Noah Josey, who each carry one 4-star designation, join Georgia natives Ty Furnish and Charlie Patterson in making up UVA’s offensive line haul. The defensive line class is highlighted consensus in-state 4-star prospect Bryce Carter, who joins Michael Diatta of Tennessee, Hugh Laughlin of Georgia, and in-state postgraduate prospect Lorenz Terry.

“Noah Josey is big and physical and tough and strong and aggressive, and a play-finisher, and all the things that we want our offensive line to be, which started to manifest this year at the highest level since I’ve been the coach at UVA, our offensive front is becoming and became more of that this year, and I think we all saw that,” Mendenhall said. “This is basically the next generation upgrade already to what we already had, and will be starting at a much further-along development point than some of our existing players that are playing well now, that they came in with. I really like the size, the physicality, the play-finishing, the athleticism, and the existing competency and capability as a high school player, he’s really developed.

“All the things I said about Noah Josey are [true for] Logan Taylor, just from a different part of the country,” Mendenhall continued. “Logan Taylor, he works basically throwing lobster pots and crab pots, and then when he’s not doing that, he’s throwing tires at a repair shop. All he does is just throw stuff. Anything that’s big, heavy and kind of outdoors and rugged, that’s where he is. And then he goes to Episcopal High School, and he’s a scholar. So he’s a heavy-throwing guy that is a scholar who is blue-collar and white-collar at the same, which is UVA. We really like what we see in him as well.”

“Bryce Carter is a unique story also in a reclassification,” Mendenhall said. “Bryce at one point this season, as he moved from school to school, was reclassified as a 2022. As he continued to play and grow and mature and excel, and as the year went on, he became clearer, and his family became clearer, that he would like to be a 2021. And that was a relatively new development. What you’ll see with Bryce is, again, athleticism, speed, a dynamic athlete for his size, disruptor, physical, and just a productive and kind of a disruptive and dynamic athlete at that size and speed for his position. And that garnered the ranking from the outside sources, but also certainly from within.”

Further discussing the offensive line recruiting, which has been a major emphasis since he arrived in Charlottesville, Mendenhall said: “So there’s a pretty simple metric for any program; that you’re always looking to bring greater than not equal to. And that’s not an insult or disrespect to our current team. You’re always looking to become better and start at a level beyond what the previous class did. And then our current team, they have to be better than the class in front of them. And that’s the way you have growth and maturity and accelerate your program. I didn’t talk about two of our other players in terms of Charlie [Patterson] and Ty [Furnish]. Charlie is more of the same build as the first two I talked about. Ty is more center-guard-ish, which is a little bit different build. But both are capable of playing offense or defense by athleticism, which is a compliment, and aggression. You’re now talking about four additions that we believe are starting beyond where most of our existing offensive linemen were when they came into our program. And the now the offensive line is just becoming more like we want it to become. So now there’s a chance of perpetuating and improving on what we already have. Now there’s consistency, excuse me, there’s the chance for consistency over the long term which is what the greatest programs have, especially in the front. It’s just the next group up, rather than having to rebuild. You’re just more reloading.”

In addition to addressing the offensive and defensive line, Coach Mendenhall and company signed five defensive backs, five linebackers (two inside and three outside prospects, led by Rivals 4-star OLB Josh McCarron), two quarterbacks, two wide receivers, one running back and one tight end.

How did this class fare in terms of addressing needs?

“It’s fair that I’ve never been able to match exactly what we need, versus exactly what we get,” Mendenhall said. “And sometimes we feel better and sometimes we don’t feel quite as good by a position or two. The volume and quality we needed again at offensive lines, to sign four… Once you get past three in any given class at offensive line, it’s difficult to maintain the quality and we did that which is great, which allows consistency for our program. The volume and quality we needed in the secondary in signing five, that’s a big task where you need not only quantity but quality. And then the other positions, especially quarterback, as we saw this year are… The word I keep using is succession planning. We continue to need to be deeper and better, and cycling through players and developing them without any gaps in terms of not quite enough depth. So you always want three that are ready, and a fourth being developed. And so now when you consider that we have Brennan [Armstrong] and then Ira [Iraken Armstead], which we already saw some of his possibilities this year before he got hurt and so that’s great. He’s coming back. But then you think about not only Jacob [Rodriguez], but you also think about our next in-state player at quarterback and the dynamic ability that he has in Jay Woolfolk, and that starts to look really, really good. Because now you’re having Brennan who’s athletic and tough and physical and control, and you have Ira who’s super-fast and athletic and tough and he can throw and is a huge big-play threat. And then you have Jacob and then you have Jay as the up-and-comers. They’re both great athletes. Jay is going to play baseball and football here at UVA and is just a remarkable athlete. So now you have Jay and Jacob coming in to add with IRA and Brennan, and that starts to look more like exactly what we’re hoping and want every year: those type of athletes just keep going through. So the quarterback depth was something and ability was something we were looking at as well. And the rest of the positions, it was just sheer quality in terms of filling the numbers that we had with players again that we thought were greater than not equal to where our other guys were when they were arriving in our program. And that’s the best way I could probably blanket-answer that question with some specifics.”

James Monroe H.S. (Fredericksburg, VA) defensive back prospect Aidan Ryan is one of nine prospects from state of Virginia schools who signed with UVA on Wednesday. ~ Photo courtesy of James Monroe Sports’ Twitter account

Virginia’s class of 2021 includes nine prospects who attend schools in the Commonwealth, making this the most abundant in-state haul in the Mendenhall era. Nine student-athletes reside in Virginia, including three-star inside linebacker Langston Long, who attended Christ School (Arden, N.C.) the past year-and-a-half. The aforementioned Logan Taylor attended Episcopal School (Alexandria, VA) but is a native of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Dual-threat quarterback Jay Woolfolk, wide receiver Malachi Fields, outside linebackers Michael Green and James Jackson, and defensive backs Aidan Ryan and Jonas Sanker round out the list of prospects who chose to represent the state of Virginia at UVA.

“It’s been a point of emphasis since I arrived, even though the numbers haven’t always reflected it,” Mendenhall said of in-state recruiting. “We start every single year, and have since I’ve been the coach, in-state. It has taken time to gain traction. It’s taken time to build relationships. It’s taken time to build credibility. It’s taken time to establish momentum. But each year it becomes better. Each year it becomes more productive, and this year the number alone certainly reflects that. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes there are more in-state prospects of quality at the Power 5 level, and sometimes there are less. But what we are finding is that with the consistency of the program, the consistency of the direction, it just is over time, and trust is built with time, that’s one of the components, the needle is moving, the tipping point is arriving, and the swing is starting. And this class, I think, is a reflection of that bigger-picture narrative that I just gave.”

Texas native dual-threat quarterback Jacob Rodriguez, Georgia running back Amaad Foston and Tennessee defensive back Javin Burke plan on enrolling next month along with Jackson, Long and Taylor. The six midyear enrollees is the highest number in the Mendenhall era.

Mendenhall indicated there are scholarships available to use if the staff wants to add to this class or, perhaps more likely, to add transfers in the offseason.

“So I always, as a buffer, I like to hold some spots for transfers. And as you look this year, Tony Poljan really helped us. Shane Simpson really helped. Adeeb [Atariwa] really helped us. D’Angelo [Amos] really helped us. Am I missing anybody? Ra’Shaun Henry really helped us so a lot of times. I’m not super clear or perfectly crystal clear until we’ve gone through the offseason and spring practice. We know the transfer portal and the one-time transfer rule is going to happen and be in effect here. We all know that will happen. And so I’ve left some room, not a lot, but some room to address what I see within our team, through spring and the offseason, to then say okay we better add this player that player this player through the portal just to give us the experience we need and that time will be probably, it could be earlier than normal, but it also could be a little bit later based on again what I think our team needs. So that’s as far as I’ll go with that. I’ve just left ourselves a buffer, which is how I’ll put it.”

Virginia Football’s Class Of 2021

Javin Burke, Defensive Back, Bradley Central (Cleveland, TN)
6’1”, 202 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 32 senior in Tennessee
247Sports: 3-star; No. 57 athlete in the class of 2021; No. 19 senior in Tennessee
SIGNED (Enrolling in January)

Bryce Carter, Defensive Lineman, Life Christian Academy (South Chesterfield, VA)
6’3”, 250 pounds
Rivals: 4-star; No. 20 strongside defensive end; No. 7 Virginia
247Sports: 4-star; No. 92 overall in the class of 2021; No. 6 defensive tackle; No. 3 Virginia
SIGNED

Jesiah Davis, Wide Receiver, Hough (Cornelius, N.C.)
6’3”, 180 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 47 North Carolina
247Sports: 3-star; No. 112 wide receiver; No. 41 North Carolina
SIGNED

Michael Diatta, Defensive Lineman, Cane Ridge (Nashville, TN)
6’5”, 260 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 22 Tennessee
247Sports: 3-star; No. 63 strongside defensive end; No. 24 Tennessee
SIGNED

Malachi Fields, Wide Receiver, Monticello (Charlottesville, VA)
6’4”, 200 pounds
Rivals: 2-star
247Sports: 3-star; No. 125 athlete; No. 42 Virginia
SIGNED

Amaad Foston, Running Back, John Milledge Academy (Milledgeville, GA)
6’0”, 210 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 34 running back; No. 59 Georgia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 91 running back; No. 113 Georgia
SIGNED (Enrolling in January)

Ty Furnish, Offensive Lineman, Blessed Trinity Catholic (Roswell, GA)
6’4”, 250 pounds
Rivals: 3-star
247Sports: 3-star; No. 47 offensive guard; No. 86 Georgia
SIGNED

Micah Gaffney, Defensive Back, Spanish Fort (AL)
6’0”, 170 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 32 Alabama
247Sports: 3-star; No. 115 cornerback; No. 51 Alabama
SIGNED

Michael Green, Outside Linebacker, Lafayette (Williamsburg, VA)
6’4”, 215 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 24 Virginia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 91 wide receiver; No. 17 Virginia
SIGNED

James Jackson, Outside Linebacker, North Cross (Roanoke, VA)
6’3”, 200 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 25 Virginia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 135 athlete; No. 45 Virginia
SIGNED (Enrolling in January)

Noah Josey, Offensive Lineman, Brentwood Academy (Brentwood, TN)
6’5”, 280 pounds
Rivals: 4-star; No. 11 offensive guard; No. 11 Tennessee
247Sports: 3-star; No. 26 offensive guard; No. 13 Tennessee
SIGNED

Hugh Laughlin, Defensive Lineman, Athens Academy (Athens, GA)
6’5”, 280 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 63 offensive tackle; No. 57 Georgia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 55 offensive tackle; No. 39 Georgia
SIGNED

Langston Long, Inside Linebacker, Christ School (Arden, N.C.)
6’2”, 215 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 41 North Carolina
247Sports: 3-star; No. 103 safety; No. 58 North Carolina
SIGNED (Enrolling in January)

Josh McCarron, Outside Linebacker, Archbishop Murphy (Everett, WA)
6’4”, 215 pounds
Rivals: 4-star; No. 19 weakside defensive end; No. 6 Washington
247Sports: 3-star; No. 28 weakside defensive end; No. 12 Washington
SIGNED

Charlie Patterson, Offensive Lineman, Fellowship Christian (Roswell, GA)
6’7”, 285 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 77 Georgia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 115 offensive tackle; No. 123 Georgia
SIGNED

Jacob Rodriguez, Quarterback, Rider (Wichita Falls, TX)
6’1”, 200 pounds
Rivals: 3-star
247Sports: 3-star; No. 39 athlete; No. 86 Texas
SIGNED (Enrolling in January)

Aidan Ryan, Defensive Back, James Monroe (Fredericksburg, VA)
6’1”, 185 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 33 Virginia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 55 safety; No. 18 Virginia
SIGNED

Jonas Sanker, Defensive Back, The Covenant School (Charlottesville, VA)
6’0”, 155 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 29 Virginia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 104 safety; No. 35 Virginia
SIGNED

William Simpkins III, Defensive Back, Quince Orchard (Gaithersburg, MD)
6’1”, 170 pounds
Rivals: 2-star
247Sports: 3-star; No. 97 cornerback; No. 30 Maryland
SIGNED

Logan Taylor, Offensive Lineman, Episcopal (Alexandria, VA)
6’7”, 295 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 44 offensive tackle; No. 10 Virginia
247Sports: 4-star; No. 30 offensive tackle; No. 8 Virginia
SIGNED (Enrolling in January)

Lorenz Terry, Defensive Lineman, Varina (VA) via Fork Union Military Academy
6’5”, 260 pounds
Rivals: NR
247Sports: 3-star
SIGNED

West Weeks, Inside Linebacker, Oconee County (Watkinsville, GA))
6’2”, 215 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 41 outside linebacker; No. 28 Georgia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 116 athlete; No. 117 Georgia
SIGNED

Jack Witmer, Tight End, Cy-Fair (Cypress, TX)
6’6”, 225 pounds
Rivals: 3-star
247Sports: 3-star; No. 60 tight end; No. 181 Texas
SIGNED

Jay Woolfolk, Quarterback, Benedictine (Richmond, VA)
5’11”, 190 pounds
Rivals: 3-star; No. 22 dual-threat quarterback; No. 16 Virginia
247Sports: 3-star; No. 15 dual-threat quarterback; No. 13 Virginia
SIGNED

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