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Four years in the making: Brendan Farrell reaps the benefit of hard work

Joining the program as a walk-on in 2019, Farrell earned a full athletic scholarship in August

<p>After earning a scholarship, Farrell is not letting his foot off the gas, as he's set on improving his already impressive numbers from last season.</p>

After earning a scholarship, Farrell is not letting his foot off the gas, as he's set on improving his already impressive numbers from last season.

For over three years, Virginia football’s senior kicker Brendan Farrell has been quietly putting in the work, controlling only what he could. So when Coach Tony Elliott called a timeout in the middle of a two-minute drill at practice the morning of Aug. 25, the stakes of what was within Farrell’s control skyrocketed. During the timeout, which was meant to ice Farrell prior to a field goal attempt, Elliott declared that the senior would be awarded a scholarship if he made the kick.

“My initial reaction was ‘oh boy,’” Farrell said. “This is one we gotta have. But as I was running out there, I was much less nervous and much more excited because I knew it was in my control.”

The kick was a culmination of thousands of hours of practice, and the pressure is something he prepares for on a daily basis. By Farrell’s high standards, he mishit the ball, but it still found its way through the uprights, and he and his teammates celebrated Farrell earning his well-deserved scholarship.

“In fairness, I had an absolutely terrible field goal — I got way under it,” Farrell said. “But, it went in, and it was a great feeling afterwards.”

Every walk-on dreams about the moment when all their hard work pays off in the form of a full ride. For Farrell, though, while he acknowledged the possibility, his focus was more internal.

“You keep pushing the limits and trying to keep improving every day,” Farrell said. “Everything else will fall into place. [I trusted] that the work I was putting in would make a difference and pay off in the end.”

After joining the program in the summer of 2019, Farrell’s journey was not linear. Scholarship or not, the jump from high school to college sports is a major adjustment, and it’s rarely seamless. It’s often a transition from being the star of a team to being pushed to the bottom of the depth chart, which can be discouraging for many.

“When you show up, it's the deathly reality check,” Farrell said. “It's a whole new world and a whole different level of football. So in the beginning, it was sort of a wake up call, and at first, it was disheartening. Because I thought I was good, but realized I had a lot of work to do.”

It was with this reality check that Farrell made a decision that ultimately propelled him to the spot he stands in today — he was simply going to give football his all and see where it would take him. Throughout the rest of his first and second years, a large chunk of which was plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, Farrell didn’t see his name move up in the depth chart, but he was making slow and steady progress on the field.

With the role of a kicker being one with few responsibilities, those wishing to reach the next level must be obsessed with the details — something Farrell has learned to appreciate. Adding a single yard to a kickoff or increasing accuracy on field goals by a single percentage point can take hundreds of hours of dedicated and calculated work.

“There comes a point where you're kicking enough that you know how to kick, and there's only small little gains you can make,” Farrell said. “And so finding those gains and maximizing your potential out of those is important.”

It was in Farrell’s third year that he finally got his breakthrough. In the Cavaliers’ fourth game of the season against Wake Forest, junior kicker Justin Duenkel — the starting kickoff man and place kicker at the time — suffered an injury, thrusting Farrell to the spotlight. While he was only responsible for one kickoff against the Demon Deacons, Farrell quickly got busy as he nailed two crucial field goals in a narrow 30-28 win over Miami the following week.

Farrell remained solid through the rest of the 2021 season, holding onto the starting spot while hitting 11 of his 13 field goal attempts — his two misses were from beyond 40 yards — all 34 of his extra point attempts and had an impressive 82 percent touchback rate on his kickoffs. 

“I eventually got my shot and took advantage of it,” Farrell said. “And of course it's more fun to play … but once you see your hard work pay off, you want to keep getting that reward.”

Following the surprising resignation of former Coach Bronco Mendenhall and the hiring of Elliott — along with a whole host of new staff — it was Farrell’s work ethic that immediately stood out to coaches, specifically Kieth Gaither — the new special teams coordinator.

“The first thing I noticed about Farrell was he's a hard worker,” Gaither said. “He showed tremendous leadership to the room. And then when you see a guy that's gotten better every day, and he’s a solid student. He deserves to be rewarded, and so he earned it. It wasn't given to him. He earned that scholarship.”

It’s been a long and rewarding journey for Farrell, but it’s far from over with nearly an entire school year lying in front of him. Beyond the individual goals he’s set for himself on the field this season — such as making all of his field goal attempts shorter than 40 yards — along with the importance of graduating in the spring, Farrell plans on seeing how far football will take him. 

“This will be my 10th year playing football and that's a lot,” Farrell said. “So when you put in that much work and time for it, I think it's only worthwhile to see how far it can go … I’ve thought of it, but it's one of those things that, like the scholarship, it will take care of itself.”

For Farrell, his journey will continue Saturday when the Cavaliers take on Old Dominion. Although just one game, it’s yet another important step towards validating the immeasurable work he’s invested in a sport he loves.

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