Realizing his dream of playing on Sundays is closer than ever for junior linebacker Micah Kiser, as NFL scouts have taken notice of his anticipation, work ethic and physicality this season — especially last Saturday in Virginia’s losing effort against No. 5 Louisville. “When the NFL people ask — which they always do — ‘What kind of learner is he? … Is he a rep guy?’” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Everyone is a rep person. It’s really what you do with those repetitions, and the game is slow, and you tell Micah one time, and he’s got it. … The game is not too fast for him. If anything, he’s faster than the game.” Kiser garnered ACC Linebacker of the Week honors for his game-high 14 tackles, two sacks and fumble recovery against the Cardinals. But even after this performance against a national title contender, which has to have boosted Kiser’s draft stock to new heights, signs point to his returning to Virginia for his senior year. When asked after his team’s 32-25 defeat Saturday if he’d try to talk junior safety Quin Blanding into staying for a final season as a Cavalier, Kiser affirmed he would. “Yeah, I’m going to be in his ear for sure,” he said. That is a reassuring line. That is the kind of line then-junior Malcolm Brogdon might have said in consideration of Justin Anderson’s departure, not the other way around. Like Brogdon, Kiser is a well-spoken and humble guy, who, despite his athletic commitments, has ingrained himself in the Virginia community. His sense of belonging, coupled with the fact that he embraces any opportunity to improve, makes it hard to envision Kiser leaving early. He has believed in Mendenhall since the two first met in Charlottesville. Kiser wants to be a leader of the movement as long as he can. “This is coach Mendenhall and his staff’s first time being here, you know, first year here,” Kiser said following the Louisville loss. “[They’re] really reestablishing the culture, so it’s a steady process. You can’t quit on them.” At a press conference Monday, junior defensive end Andrew Brown was asked what Kiser means to the Cavalier program and what qualities separate him from other college linebackers. First citing his teammate’s awareness, execution and ownership, Brown then tacked on, “And the fact that he’s coming back next year, whew.” Brown’s words did not sound like either an indirect plea or a pressure tactic. His tone came off as genuine, assured and excited about the future. With everything above in mind, it appears likely Kiser will be back at Virginia next year, better than ever. Given the junior season he’s put together, there should be no ceiling for Kiser in 2017. Named one of 12 semifinalists for the 2016 Butkus Award Oct. 30, he’s already gained recognition as one of the nation’s top linebackers. Kiser ranks fourth among FBS defenders in total tackles with 91 — 11.4 per game — and, when considering only linebackers, ranks 12th in sacks with 5.5. He has a knack for attacking the A-gap and creating havoc in and out of the pocket. “Our blitzes with the inside linebackers have for the most part been productive this year,” Kiser said. “So you know if coach Mendenhall calls your number, you make a play.” Kiser's contributions extend beyond a statsheet. The Pacific Club announced Oct. 24 its 19 quarterfinalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, an annual award presented to a college defensive player who embodies the IMPACT acronym — integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity. Included on the list is Kiser. As his teammates and coaches will attest, he deserves to be there. “The guy’s a dog,” Brown said. “He’s the man. I understand politics plays a big role in [the award]. But at the end of the day it comes down to the fact, and Micah Kiser is definitely a top contender.” Mendenhall designated Kiser as a starter on his new Cavalier team, neither because of the linebacker’s 2015 captaincy, nor his Rock Weir Award — which honored the most improved player in spring drills under coach London — nor his 2014, 2015 ACC Academic Honor Roll memberships. Kiser quickly earned his spot and his 2016 captaincy with the same willpower that Mendenhall praises to date. “Micah is a natural, but he’s worked,” Mendenhall said. “He’s earned that [title], meaning that there’s no one that studies film more obsessively, no one that is more of a master of the game currently on our team. … What’s allowing him to make the plays he’s making is the time and investment and preparation.” With his ability to read the action, pass cover in the middle and complete tackles, Kiser could be in the league next year, developing behind a veteran corps. In an era when the character of more and more NFL players is called into question, franchises would place added value on him. If Kiser decides to go unexpectedly, we shouldn’t blame him. That being said, I for one will always like a Brogdon more than an Anderson.