Previewing Virginia football’s 2019 recruiting class

Several incoming freshmen will hope to make an immediate impact this fall

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Bolstered by a strong freshman class, Virginia is ready to take on the 2019 season. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After an impressive season was capped off by the program’s first bowl win since 2005, the Virginia football team will hope to build on last year’s success in 2019. 

In addition to many key players returning, Coach Bronco Mendenhall is adding a strong recruiting class — ranked 39th overall by 247Sports. Several of the 23 freshmen that will be joining the Cavaliers next season will be counted on by Mendenhall to help Virginia fight for a Coastal Division title in the ACC.

As August quickly approaches, let’s take a deeper look at Virginia football’s 2019 freshman class.

Key players

The jewel of Virginia’s class is four-star defensive tackle Jowon Briggs from Cincinnati. Briggs — Virginia’s highest-rated signee in the Mendenhall era and an ESPN 300 talent — hopes to be an immediate contributor to the Cavaliers’ defensive front. Praised for his strength and power, Briggs can be productive both as a run defender and pass rusher. Briggs’ commitment, after receiving offers from major programs like Alabama and Ohio State, is a landmark achievement for Mendenhall and a testament to how far Virginia has come as a program in the last few years.

Joining Briggs are two more four-star prospects — according to Rivals — in freshman outside linebacker Hunter Stewart and freshman offensive tackle Ja’Quay Hubbard. Armed with size, speed and a high football IQ, Stewart should fit perfectly in Mendenhall’s system. Hubbard — the top-ranked lineman in his class in Pennsylvania — is another big body to bolster Virginia’s offensive line and could play an important role protecting senior quarterback Bryce Perkins next season.

Players in areas of need

After losing running back Jordan Ellis to graduation, the Cavaliers will need to find another player to lead their rushing attack in 2019. Incoming freshman running back Mike Hollins — a three-star Louisiana product — could play a big role next season. Virginia fans need not look any further than the Louisiana Division II state title game for evidence of Hollins’ talent. Hollins rushed for 240 yards and four touchdowns off 27 carries to help University Laboratory School secure a second-straight state championship and undefeated season. 

Another skill position where Virginia has lost some depth is at wide receiver. A pair of incoming freshmen receivers — Dontayvion Wicks and Nathaniel Beal III — will be trusted to help fill the hole former top wideout Olamide Zaccheaus left behind when he headed to the NFL. Two big-bodied players with speed and safe hands, Wicks and Beal add much-needed depth to the Cavaliers’ receiving corps.

Finally, Virginia fielded one of the best secondary units in the nation last season, but the Cavaliers lost two starters in Tim Harris and Juan Thornhill. To help make up for their absence, Mendenhall has landed several talented defensive backs. Freshman safeties Antonio Clary and Chayce Chalmers combine great size with solid ball skills, while freshman cornerback Fentrell Cypress II adds tremendous speed.

Other players to watch

Besides the aforementioned players, there are several incoming freshman Cavaliers worth keeping an eye on. In recent years, Mendenhall and company have made great strides in international recruitment and will be welcoming two German players this season in freshman offensive lineman Kariem Al Soufi and freshman quarterback Luke Wentz. The 6-foot-4, 335-pound Al Soufi has a reputation of being a mauler, while Wentz is an athletic dual-threat quarterback who could compete for the starting spot in the future.

Freshman running back Seneca Milledge will also be an exciting player for Virginia in the fall. Milledge is well-known for his speed and explosiveness and is “one of the nation’s fastest 2019 prospects” according to ESPN.com Recruitment Analyst Gerry Hamilton. Finally, after producing just the ninth-most sacks in the ACC in 2018, Mendenhall seems to have made the pass rush a priority with over a quarter of the incoming freshman class playing in the defensive front seven. With so many new faces to add depth, Virginia’s defense could see massive improvement.

With just a couple of months left before the Cavaliers kick off the 2019 season at Pittsburgh, the Virginia faithful should be excited to see how the newcomers can help the team grow and develop in Mendenhall’s fourth year in Charlottesville.

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