Cavalier Corner

February 2019

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FEBRUARY 2019 23 eight-win season without him, and the opti- mism and future and hope for our program isn't the same if he's not here." On the defensive side, the Hoos were also very good. They finished second in the ACC and No. 16 nationally in fewest passing yards allowed per game (183.0) and gave up just 330.0 yards per contest, good enough for third best in the league and 20th in the country in total defense. Much of that was due to the play of the secondary, where Hall shined. He an- nounced he'd return to UVA rather than head to the NFL, and finished as the na- tional leader in passes broken up (22) and tied for No. 1 in passes defended (24). In all, 2018 was a clear sign of progress for the Hoos, not only in terms of winning the bowl game but also in the season as a whole. "When you play late in the year with high-stakes games, that requires a different level of maturity, performance and execu- tion," Mendenhall said. "After being close a number of times, we've taken that feed- back and learned, grown and applied, and it worked for today. … A bowl victory is sig- nificant, especially with that amount of time — that's a huge test and our team handled it really well. "When you put it in contrast with a year ago, you can't be more striking in this set- ting, this one-game setting. That's a giant step forward." And whatever it took, even if that in- cluded practicing on Christmas, the Wa- hoos learned in 2018 that they're ready to pay the price because the results speak for themselves. "It was worth it," Zaccheaus concluded. "It was hard, but it was worth it." As to the future, Mendenhall was asked what it means for UVA that the Cavaliers have so much experience coming back this coming fall. "Maybe we won't be picked last," he joked. VIRGINIA'S 2019 RECRUITING CLASS ALREADY AMONG ITS BEST With some time remaining to put the finishing touches on the class of 2019, UVA is already poised to have one of its best hauls in recent memory thanks to a 21-player group that inked with the Cavaliers in December during the early signing period. Ranked 35th nationally by Rivals, Bronco Mendenhall and his staff have already assembled a signing class that rates higher than any at UVA over the past six years. In fact, it's just the eighth top-35 class the Hoos have had in the Rivals era dating back to 2002. The jewel of the group is four-star defensive tackle Jowon Briggs, a 6-2, 286-pounder from Cincinnati who fin- ished No. 73 overall in the Rivals100 for 2019, making him the first top-100 signed player under Mendenhall. UVA also signed two other four-star recruits in offensive lineman Ja'Quay Hubbard and linebacker Hunter Stewart. Hubbard, a 6-6, 330-pound native of Sharpsville, Pa., is the highest-rated lineman (No. 29 offensive tackle na- tionally per Rivals) to sign with Virginia in five years, while Stewart — a 6-3, 220-pound Virginia native who played his prep ball at Gonzaga in Washing- ton, D.C. — is the highest-rated in-state signee (No. 3 in the Commonwealth and the No. 16 outside linebacker in the land accord- ing to Rivals) in the same time frame. Mendenhall and Co. once again hit Florida hard, signing six from the Sunshine State. That group includes Antonio Clary, a 6-0, 200-pound three-star safety from Jacksonville who was among three early enrollees for the second semester. Others from Florida who joined Clary in signing early with Virginia were three-star Fort Myers (Fla.) Dunbar teammates running back Seneca Milledge and defensive back Major Williams, as well as three-star dual-threat quarterback RJ Harvey out of Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater, three-star defensive end/outside linebacker D'Sean Perry from Miami Gulliver Prep, and three-star offensive lineman Zach Teter out of Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson. The two other early enrollees who will be ready for spring ball when it begins in March will be three-star wide receiver Dorien Goddard and three-star defensive back Chayce Chalmers. Goddard, a 6-3, 222-pound product of Greeneville (Tenn.) High, put up mon- ster numbers during his high school career. After winning the state title a year ago, his team went 15-0 on the way to another championship fueled by his 78 receptions for 1,320 yards and 14 touchdowns. Chalmers, meanwhile, is one of four players from the Commonwealth to sign with UVA. The Gainesville native and former Stonewall Jackson High standout was a first-team all-region player after posting 60 tackles and four inter- ceptions (one he returned for a TD), 1.5 sacks and a blocked punt. Joining Briggs on the defensive line for UVA in this class was one of the school's top in- state targets: Ben Smiley III, a 6-4, 280-pounder from Indian River High in Chesapeake. Rated as a three-star recruit by Rivals, Smiley helped the Braves to a 12-1 record this year with 69 tackles, 16.5 stops for loss and 11 sacks. Virginia also added a legacy recruit to its roster by landing three-star Atlanta linebacker Nick Jackson. The 6-2, 222-pound Jackson, whose father, Doug, is a UVA grad, racked up 95 stops, 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble this past year as a senior at The Lovett School. — Brad Franklin "A bowl victory is signifi- cant … that's a huge test and our team handled it really well. When you put it in contrast with a year ago, you can't be more striking in this setting, this one- game setting. That's a giant step forward." HEAD COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL AFTER HIS TEAM'S 28-0 WIN OVER SOUTH CAROLINA IN THE BELK BOWL Jowon Briggs finished the cycle as Rivals' No. 73 overall prospect, marking the Cavaliers' first top- 100 signee under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM

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