50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: What They’re Saying

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Virginia opens the season Saturday at Pittsburgh.
Nick Grant and Billy Kemp are two players that could see bigger roles this season. ~ Photo courtesy Jim Daves/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Throughout August, the Virginia football team has worked through training camp and practice. The Cavaliers have answered questions about being the media’s ACC Coastal Division favorite. They’ve talked about ignoring those predictions, adding depth, and building on last year’s bowl win. The Hoos are now just days away from kickoff at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Along the way this preseason, several new names have repeatedly drawn attention as potential breakout contributors this season. The “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series is back to see what they’re saying about those preseason names.

6 – What They’re Saying About Popular Preseason Names

Throughout the preseason, several names consistently made it into the spotlight as potential candidates for increased playing time. Whether it was the media asking question, the message boards and other social media debating possibilities, or brief clips in highlight videos, some names came up frequently. Here’s a look at some of those names.

Cornerback Nick Grant

Bryce Perkins on the number selection process: “I’m glad we do it like that just because it makes it more gratifying when you do receive that number. I think a perfect example is one of our corners, Nick Grant. I think he was something in the 90’s, then he moved to 20, and now he picked the No. 1. His whole journey, his whole path has led him to pick that No. 1 jersey and then to finally at the end receive it, it means more to him. It was trials and tribulations to get to that point.”

UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall on the starting spot: “Nick is a relentless worker. Just simply wouldn’t relinquish the spot. He’s the most conditioned player I would say on our team, he’s the most consistent worker currently on our team, and he’s made the most plays at corner. Whoever we throw in the mix to stack against him, he just seems to outperform them over and over and over again. Then he’s running down on kicks and running down on punts and he’s not tired and he’s back competing at corner again. So he’s just doing more, better than anyone else. That competition will go on I think probably throughout the entire year. To this point, he’s earned the chance to be the starter through his relentless work and production.”

Bryce Hall on his teammate: “Nick is somebody who has been so faithful in the long run and when you talk about a guy whose just put his head down and worked and been through the whole process of being on scout team, then getting [a jersey number] at the end of his first year, then being somebody who contributed on special teams the following year – he’s just really been through a lot and he’s been faithful through it all, faithful in the little things. He’s a smart dude. He works hard and tries hard. It’s really like all coming forth to where he’s getting his opportunity this year to really show what he can do. I’m excited for him. He’s earned it, where he’s at right now. With all that he’s been through, I couldn’t be happier for somebody like him to be in his position right now.”

Terrell Jana on going against Grant in practice: “I’ve been going against Nino for the past three years now. He’s made amazing steps forward in his playing style and the kind of player he is. He’s one of the hardest workers in the program so I’m not surprised by it. I’m excited to see him take the steps he wanted to take. He’s a fierce player – that’s the best way to describe it I think. Whether that be special teams, in the weight room, or defense, he’s fierce.”

Linebacker Nick Jackson

Fellow linebacker and team captain Jordan Mack on the freshman: “He’s just been a sponge. He’s soaking up, always in the film room, doing his job. With the bumps and bruises of being a first year, he’s just learning and playing fast and playing comfortable. He’s picking up on things very fast. Personally, being from Georgia and he’s from Georgia, I’m very proud to see him do that.”

Defensive lineman Jowon Briggs

Mendenhall on how quickly he realized Briggs might help the team this year: “Maybe the first practice. He’s strong and he’s quick and he’s smart and he’s mature and he doesn’t view himself through the entitlement process of recruiting. He’s unaffected by that. I received a text from him talking about a possible conflict when choir tryouts would be with the class. He’s well rounded. So by the way, I viewed that positively that he’s looking for a lot to do in college besides just starting at nose tackle. Nothing has been too fast for him. The team likes him because he’s humble and hard working. He’s just exactly who we thought he was. That presence at nose tackle gives us a huge advantage over just where run stunts and pressure and pass emphasis can come from. There is a solidifying factor in there that the A gaps are handled.”

Mack on the projected starter at nose tackle: “He’s silent and he just goes about his work. He’s physical and he’s big and he just does his job. As a freshman, or first year, he’s coming along and learning his responsibilities and doing it at a very high level.”

Fellow defensive lineman Aaron Faumui on the freshman: “I’m really impressed. It’s surprising because he’s still 17 years old so he’s still a baby so to see him dominate at the collegiate level at his age is surprising. I’m glad I get to play with him this year. He’s going to do big things this year.”

Receivers Terrell Jana, Tavares Kelly, and Billy Kemp

Perkins on Terrell Jana: “He’s smart, smart as a whip. He’s quarterback friendly. I think that’s one of the best qualities a receiver can have is just being able to work with the quarterback and be in the spots. We’re always on the same page. He’s hungry about his craft and he wants to get better. He wants other people to get better too. That’s the great thing about Terrell, he’s really selfless and he wants other people to succeed just as much as him. I think that’s what makes him a great teammate and a great leader.”

Mendenhall on Kelly and Kemp filling into Olamide Zaccheaus’ old position: “They’re both dynamic, quick, capable. They’re both Olamide-ish in terms of not only build, and athleticism. Olamide was three years worth of hard, hard work to become UVA’s leading receiver. His consistency and durability and maturity is what both Billy and Tavares are working towards. Capability is the not the issue. Maturity and consistency is what they have to work toward to compare to him.”

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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