99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia kicks off its season in fewer than 75 days.
Lester Coleman drops the ball to punt against Georgia Tech. ~ Mike Ingalls

When new special teams coach Ricky Brumfield spoke with reporters this spring, he noted that wholesale changes were not on the horizon because “obviously they did a great job with a lot of different things.” Brumfield named one player among those thoughts: Lester Coleman.

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series continues with Coleman and the long-term outlook at punter.

No. 72 – Punting Plans

Entering the 2017 season, UVA knew it had to replace punter Nicholas Conte, who became the first Cavalier punter since Will Brice in 1996 to be named as a first-team All-ACC selection. Conte wrapped up his career as No. 1 all-time at Virginia and No. 3 in ACC history with a career average of 44.45 yards per punt.

Enter Lester Coleman.

The senior followed a tough act with a good show of his own. Coleman averaged 43.7 yards per punt to end up fourth in the ACC standings. He led the league with 23 punts of 50 yards or more and finished seventh nationally with 29 punts inside the 20-yard line. Coleman set a single-season UVA record with six punts of 60 yards or more and a single-game record with an average of 52.3 yards per punt against Boston College (that topped a 51.6 average from Ryan Weigand in 2007 at Wyoming).

That landed him second-team All-ACC honors.

Coleman also helped the Wahoos clinch bowl eligibility with a big game in the win against Georgia Tech. In that contest, he tied a career-long mark with a 63-yard punt and averaged 46 yards on eight total kicks. Three of those punts went inside the 10-yard line with two inside the five. He put three punts inside the 15-yard line in the fourth quarter alone.

Not a bad debut season, right? Coleman had never punted in a college game before and the coaching staff had no idea who would emerge from a punting competition last offseason. Coleman did. He earned a scholarship and a fifth year in the program as a result.

As some articles (here and here and here) detailed last season, all of that is quite the story for someone that became a college punter sort of by accident. Even though brother James, who Lester credited for a lot of his development and success, went to college as a punter, Lester didn’t play football initially and then became Woodberry Forest’s punter when a senior on the roster got hurt. The coaches asked him to try it simply because they knew his brother punted.

So Coleman returns to provide stable ground for one of Brumfield’s units, but Mendenhall often talks about succession planning in terms of roster management. What do things look like for future years or in the event of injury?

The Virginia roster lists just one other player at punter and that’s sophomore Nash Griffin, who served as the holder on field goals last season. Griffin handled both placekicker and punter duties at Lawrence Central High School in Indiana. After a redshirt season, he played in all 13 games as the holder in 2017. That gives him three more years in the program with a variety of potential spots to contribute.

While Griffin’s roster position drew the PK/P slash, two other kickers on the list also did double duty in high school. A.J. Mejia did both jobs at Paul VI High in Fairfax, while Brian Delaney did the same at Westfield High School in Chantilly. Mejia won the starting kicker competition last fall and made eight of 12 attempts on the season, though none of those came beyond 38 yards. Delaney stepped in on kickoffs and sent the ball away 56 times in 2017. Delaney, of note, was ranked the No. 1 punter in the nation by Kohl’s Kicking.

In other words, that’s three players with in-game experience and at least some punting background on the roster beyond Coleman.

The Hoos add another highly rated kicker to the mix with the incoming class too. Hunter Pearson also played at both positions at Seneca High in South Carolina. Kohl’s rated him No. 10 among placekickers in his class and noted that he was close to being the top ranked player on field goals and kickoffs in the class. Pearson will try to insert his name into the placekicking mix immediately this fall.

It will be interesting to see who emerges among the Virginia specialists, though none are likely to have the “out of nowhere” journey to the top like Coleman did.

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has discussed much more. The previous articles are below. Click away.

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