99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia kicks off in fewer than 25 days.
Darrius Bratton listens to instructions at practice. ~ Kris Wright

Throughout the spring and summer months, conversations around the Virginia football team’s defense often drifted to the secondary. The Cavaliers feature a bevy of options in the defensive backfield, including quite a few well-known names among the fans.

Juan Thornhill, Bryce Hall, and Brenton Nelson all started nearly every game last season (Thornhill missed the Pitt game with an injury). That trio combined for nine of the team’s 15 interceptions last season too, including four each from Thornhill and Nelson. Plus, Tim Harris opted to come back for a sixth year through a medical hardship waiver after injuries again derailed a season for him in 2017.

Throw in Chris Moore, who started five games in a hybrid safety-linebacker role, and Joey Blount, who stood out on special teams last season and drew a lot of praise in the spring for his play on defense. That’s a lot of names in the hopper already. But it doesn’t include someone that could be on the rise as the 2018 season approaches

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series continues.

No. 24 – Bratton’s Road Of Resilience

When you consider all of those fairly well-known names and the road he traveled to get here, it’s easy to forget Darrius Bratton. He played in 10 games last season as a true freshman with one tackle so there wasn’t anything eye-catching to bring his name to the forefront in 2017. That’s changing in preseason camp for the 2018 season.

The first hint came on the first day of practice when Thornhill unsolicitedly brought up Bratton’s name first when asked about the corner spot opposite of Hall. Then after Thursday’s practice at Lambeth Field, coach Bronco Mendenhall fully brought Bratton into the mix. When asked about the spot opposite of Hall and the fact that Harris had not practiced until Thursday, Mendenhall singled out the sophomore.

“He’s done a really nice job,” Mendenhall said. “Tim’s loss has been Darrius’ gain in terms of the volume of repetition and coaching and intensity. He had a really good summer, he got strong, he got fast, he’s becoming durable, he’s tackling well, and he’s covering well. I like what I’ve seen from him.”

Blount, another sophomore defensive back, followed that up with high praise for his classmate. He called him the most impressive among players making moves this offseason.

“I think most impressive so far since summer is probably Darrius Bratton and the way he has come into the preseason,” Blount said. “Repped out his press [coverage]. Repped out his off man [coverage]. Got into the film room, really trying to show coach and really showing all of us that he’s here to work and to try to start a legacy. I think he’s done a great job. He’s impressed me with his game.”

Bratton brings similar measurables to the position as Harris, Thornhill, and Hall. Those three players are 6’1”, 6’0”, and 6’1” respectively while weighing in between 200 and 210 pounds. Bratton checks in at 6’0” and 195 pounds. Watching him in practices, he flows well in space and closes well out of breaks. He was known for his jumping ability as a high school athlete back at William Fleming in Roanoke. All of that allows him to challenge catches for receivers.

Even considering those skills, it’s impressive that he’s stuck it out to get on to the depth chart this early in his career. Impressive, but not surprising. In fact, Fork Union Military Academy coach John Shuman told The Roanoke Times in this article in the spring of 2017 that Bratton had enough talent to “start right away” and was an “elite player” on the football field.

Of course, how he ended up at FUMA for Shuman to make that proclamation in the first place is the real story. Bratton committed to UVA back in 2015 when Mike London still coached the Cavaliers. The summer before his senior year, he broke his wrist at a camp. Before he finished his senior year, he tore an ACL during football season.

By the end of that year, London had been replaced by Mendenhall and the recruiting evaluation process needed to start over. He needed time at FUMA either way, but after graduating from Fleming in 2016, he no longer knew whether that detour would still lead to Charlottesville.

Bratton impressed enough at a UVA camp that the Hoos wanted him to join the program under the new staff, particularly after he excelled at Fork Union at cornerback in the fall of 2016. That season, he came through with three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, among his statistics. He had returned a pick at Fleming for a score in 2015 too. FUMA went 8-2 during his season there.

In his first season at Virginia, he became one of 17 true freshman to play in 2017. He made his debut against Boise State and played in the remainder of the games on the schedule. Now, he’s trying to get on the field more often, possibly even in a starting role. One thing is for sure, you can’t question the resilience that got him into this position and that’s a trait that will help him on the island at corner.

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

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