Four members of the Virginia football team have decided to opt out of the 2020 fall football season, Coach Bronco Mendenhall confirmed Thursday morning. The four Cavaliers are redshirt freshman wide receiver Dorien Goddard, sophomore running back Mike Hollins, sophomore defensive back Tenyeh Dixon and junior defensive tackle Aaron Faumui.
“I don’t expect Tenyeh Dixon or Dorien Goddard [to play],” Mendenhall said during a Zoom call with media. “So, those four total — including Mike Hollins and Aaron Faumui — are the ones, at this point, that we don’t expect to return. We expect everyone else to stay and play.”
Due to COVID-19 concerns, Virginia student-athletes have the option to opt out of the fall sports season. Notably, the NCAA approved a blanket waiver in August that will grant an additional year of eligibility to all fall sports athletes, regardless of their playing status.
Goddard committed to Virginia in 2018 as a three-star recruit. At 6-foot-3, he’s a big-bodied receiver that could have added size and physicality to the Cavaliers in 2020. Goddard made just four appearances in 2019 before redshirting, usually appearing on special teams. He was set to play a bigger role this season after the departures of Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois.
A tremendous athlete, Hollins was expected by many to make an immediate impact last season after a highly successful high school career that included multiple state championships. In many ways, he delivered on those expectations, appearing in all but two games last year, sitting behind junior tailback Wayne Taulapapa in the depth chart. Hollins had a particularly memorable performance against William & Mary when he led the team with 11 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Playing in a talented and deep secondary, Dixon spent most of his time on special teams in 2019. The Washington, D.C. native recorded three tackles and made nine appearances last year. Dixon could have played a more significant role this season due to the loss of Bryce Hall to graduation and the NFL Draft. Goddard, Hollins and Dixon were three of the 17 true freshmen who appeared in a game for Virginia last season.
Faumui was predicted to be a stalwart and major contributor on defense for the Cavaliers this fall. The Hawaii native has made 26 appearances and nine starts over the last two years. Just last season, Faumui produced 33 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks and two pass breakups. While Virginia’s front seven is still an impressive unit, the Cavaliers will certainly feel the absence of Faumui.
“The number of plays, the amount of experience and the depth that [Faumui] provides [is valuable],” Mendenhall said. “It’s the same that really a lot of teams are dealing with. So, when you have experienced players that have started games and contributed at a high level, anytime they’re not with you — much like [if] they would be lost to an injury — certainly that’s difficult.”
While he acknowledged that filling the void left by players who chose to opt out will be challenging, Mendenhall added that “every player on our team has the absolute choice [to play or not] and that’s what I believe in.”
The four aforementioned Virginia players are joined by several other student-athletes across the country who are also opting out of the fall season. Some of these players include Georgia quarterback Jamie Newman, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Miami defensive end Greg Rousseau.
Besides the opt-outs, Mendenhall also shared an injury update. First, sophomore defensive back Antonio Clary is back with the team. Additionally, senior linebacker Rob Snyder and redshirt freshman wide receiver Nathaniel Beal III are both expected to return next week. All three players suffered season-ending injuries in 2019.
“Those are probably the three big ones that have been out for awhile,” Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall also said that junior offensive tackle Bobby Haskins will return the following week after recovering from an off-season injury. Given the players Virginia is losing for the season, the return of Haskins and the others will be critical for the Cavaliers’ depth on offense and defense.
Finally, Mendenhall provided some clarity on another important storyline — junior transfer running back Ronnie Walker Jr.’s eligibility. Walker committed to Virginia in April after deciding to transfer from Indiana. Since he wasn’t a graduate transfer, Walker had to apply for a waiver to become eligible for the 2020 season. However, Walker’s initial waiver was denied, and Virginia’s subsequent appeal was rejected too.
“We're still in the process, and we will be for 30 days so I won't be able to give you a final answer until at the end of that,” Mendenhall said. “We're going to work hard all the way to the very end and exhaust every chance in that process. The appeal was denied.”
As its season approaches, Virginia’s roster — across all three units — is coming together quickly and will become even more clear in the coming weeks.
Virginia football is currently scheduled to play its first game against Virginia Tech Sept. 19 in Blacksburg, Va.. The game will be broadcasted on ABC and will kick off at either 3:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.