After all, this is one of the top 100 recruits in the entire country for the class of 2019—the second-ranked defensive tackle—who hails from Big Ten country and is right in Ohio State’s back yard. Just this week, Briggs accepted an invitation to the elite Under Armour All-America Game in January. Choosing a school with two bowl appearances and zero wins over its in-state rival in his football-watching life seems like an odd decision, at least from the standpoint of people who cover top-flight recruiting year in and year out. Rivals went so far as to call Briggs’ commitment the #1 surprise in the 2019 cycle so far.
Looking behind the rankings and ratings, though, reveals why Briggs may have felt Virginia made sense. Land of 10, a Big Ten-focused site, labeled Briggs the “anti-recruit” in its profile of him because of Briggs’ approach to the whole process of considering schools. The high school he attends outside Cincinnati—Walnut Hills—requires three years of Latin for all incoming 7th and 8th graders, and offers more AP classes than any high school in the country.
Also, this is the entrance to that school:
Boy does THAT look familiar.
But while his off-the-field interests may have been what attracted Briggs to Virginia, his on-the-field talents are what attract the national recruiting world to Briggs. And those talents are PLENTIFUL.
Video proof of that came out of Briggs’ performance at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge camp in Atlanta. The roster is the definitive who’s-who among this year’s rising seniors. Briggs did not disappoint.
A quick rundown of the four guys he’s facing in one-on-ones there:
- The first victim (red jersey #24) is Branson Bragg, rated the #2 center in the country by Rivals. Bragg committed to Stanford around the same time Briggs committed to Virginia. See if you can find a rep Bragg wins; I couldn’t.
- Next up (white jersey #25) is Clay Webb. Webb is the #1 center, #10 overall, and will have his pick of SEC schools to attend. Briggs doesn’t win every snap but he is far from getting embarrassed, either. And there are several reps where Briggs gets enough pressure that the quarterback would have to dance around.
- After Webb comes Dontae Lucas (red jersey #33), a Florida State commit and the #5 guard nationally. Lucas has a solid 30 pounds of weight advantage on Briggs. But does Briggs go around the bigger man? Nope: bull rush, right up under Lucas’s chin, through his 327-pound frame and into the quarterback’s lap.
- Then comes the really fun part. After some drills (and one more hand-fighting rep against Lucas), Briggs squares off with Kardell Thomas, aka Mr. Pancake. I have this tendency to giggle like an idiot when I watch really dominant offensive line film; watching Thomas against mere mortals—even in elite Louisiana prep football matchups—has left me gasping for air. The LSU commit is massive, mean, and agile. And these highlights against Briggs are all-out war. On the last play in this video, Thomas catches Briggs with a pretty sharp stiff-arm to the jaw. Thomas wins the rep, but Briggs gets his in, casually chucking the 330-pound Thomas aside at the whistle.
I came across this video in a tweet from Briggs himself. When I retweeted it with some commentary, Briggs’ response showed his unique personality:
Thank you sir,— Jowon M. Briggs (@briggsjowon0) July 19, 2018
I believe if you want to be the best, you have to first compete with the best, I’ll do it again in college, I don’t and won’t have time to think of stars and stuff at that snap, I just think of physically abusing the man across the line. No weakness https://t.co/qr7XTQhOcE
The “knock” on Briggs—to the extent there are demerits against recruits of his caliber—is too short, too small. At only 6-foot-2, Briggs certainly doesn’t have the mammoth frame of past stud linemen like an A’Shawn Robinson—or, for that matter, Andrew Brown. Clips like this one show that Briggs knows how to use his strength, his speed, and his leverage to play much bigger than his listed 298.
If one were to draw comparisons based on frame and style, two come to mind quickly. One would be Donte Wilkins, who played his senior season under Mendenhall at 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds. I feel very comfortable saying that a Wilkins-esque role is the floor of what to expect from Briggs in Charlottesville.
As for a ceiling? Probably the most famous example of a defensive lineman playing past his “too short” label is a 6-foot-1, three-star recruit from the suburbs of Pittsburgh: Aaron Donald. Anything close to what Donald did for Pitt would obviously land Briggs in the pantheon of UVA football greats.
Briggs as a person is already one of the most intriguing commits in the Mendenhall era. Briggs as a player has the potential to be one of the most exciting Cavaliers in recent memory.