After the last of the Cavaliers’ 2019 national letters of intent were received on traditional signing day (Feb. 6), Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall had high praise for his latest group of incoming freshmen.
Mendenhall said the class reminds him of the one his staff signed in 2017, which produced seven starters on last season’s eight-win team and another eight players who saw significant snaps.
“I believe this class that we just signed is similar to our ‘17 class in terms of capability of players, how fast they might play and the impact they might have,” Mendenhall said, “and so I’m really excited about this class from top to bottom and the needs being addressed but also just the quality of players.”
The 2017 class produced the likes of safety Joey Blount, who finished fourth on the team with 65 tackles and intercepted two passes, and 6-foot-6 outside linebacker Charles Snowden, who finished the season with 7.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Starters Mandy Alonso (DE), Zane Zandier (MLB), Ryan Nelson (LT), Chris Glaser (G) and kicker Brian Delaney all came out of the 2017 class. It also included Darrius Bratton, who split snaps with Tim Harris at cornerback early last season, wide receiver Terrell Jana, defensive lineman Tommy Christ and running backs PK Kier and Lamont Atkins, who are the most likely options to replace Jordan Ellis in 2019.
According to 247sports.com, Virginia’s 2019 class ranks No. 39 in the country while the 2017 class came in at No. 58. Here’s a look at the incoming freshmen most likely to see the field this fall.
The Cavaliers have three freshmen already on campus: wide receiver Dorien Goddard and defensive backs Antonio Clary and Chayce Chalmers. All three already physically look the part, and Mendenhall said they’re getting a head start on the rest of the class, on and off the field.
“They’ve already started at a higher level in terms of physical maturity, strength, speed and size, and the University of Virginia really focuses on students coming in, in the summer and this long orientation process,” Mendenhall said. “These three have basically dropped in and as a credit to them, we’ve hardly noticed they’re there other than we see them at workouts because they’re doing all the things right in class and off the field, so they’re pretty mature.”
Goodard may be the most likely of any member of the class to see the field early. He has the kind of size (6-3, 220) the Virginia coaches are looking for to be a complement on the outside to all the smaller, speedy slot receivers on the roster. In 2018, he helped Greeneville High School win a Tennessee state title with 1,320 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
Clary and Chalmers have longer roads to playing time. Clary will compete with second-year players Joseph White and Jaylen Baker just to be in the conversation behind the team’s top cornerbacks Bryce Hall, Bratton and Germane Crowell. Chalmers comes in as a safety with 4.42-second 40-yard dash speed. He’s perfect for the safety/outside linebacker hybrids, which now dot the college football landscape.
Two incoming running backs look like they’ll have a shot at early carries. Mike Hollins (5-10, 214) is a physical runner from Louisiana built much in the same vein as Ellis, who just capped his career with a 1,000-yard season.
Hollins led University Lab High School to back-to-back state titles. In 2018, he rushed for 1,645 yards and 33 touchdowns, and he put the finishing touches on his senior season with 237 rushing yards and five touchdowns (one receiving) in the state championship game.
Seneca Milledge (5-6, 170) is a much more diminutive back, but he more than makes up for it with what looks like sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash speed. He finished his high school career with 2,132 rushing yards. In 2018, he won a long jump state title, a county championship in the long and triple jumps and a district title in the 100-meter dash while at Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Florida, which is an area that is rarely lacking in speed.
Don’t be surprised if Milledge finds his way onto the two-deep early as a punt or kick returner or if he ends up in the mix with Tavares Kelly and Billy Kemp to replace slot receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.
Virginia’s recruiters continued their focus on improving the offensive and defensive lines this season, and those efforts may pay off this fall.
Offensively, Ja’Quay Hubbard comes in as the No. 2-ranked offensive tackle in Pennsylvania. He’s slimmed down to a svelte 318 pounds, and the Cavaliers’ coaches would love nothing more than to have him come in and compete for playing time right away.
German guard Kariem Al Soufi’s combination of size (6-4, 340) and athleticism almost automatically make him a candidate for early playing time.
Defensively, tackle Jowon Briggs is right up there with Goddard as the most likely of the incoming freshmen to see the field early. He’s the first four-star recruit to commit since Mendenhall took over in 2016, and as 247sports’ No. 75 overall recruit in the country, he’s also the highest-rated recruit of the Mendenhall era. He weighs around 290 pounds and squats more than 700. He’s sure to at least be part of the rotation on the interior of the defensive line in 2019.