I’m old enough to remember when special teams in Charlottesville were often an adventure. But since Ricky Brumfield took over four years ago things have felt different. Whether it was a Joe Reed kickoff return for a touchdown or a Brian Delaney field goal to take the lead over VaTech, Virginia’s special teams have become a solid part of the team. So as we enter 2021, there are some new faces and some contributors in new roles. But there are pieces are in place for this unit to help the Virginia Cavaliers find success.
Delaney hit 10-13 field goals a season ago but departs leaving the door open for Justin Duenkel. Duenkel handled Virginia’s kickoffs last year with 26 of 43 resulting in a touchback. He’ll be new to kicking field goals, but his game experience kicking off is a plus. Billy Kemp IV will once again field punts after being the only Cavalier with a return last season. He averaged 5.1 yards per return with a long of 19 yards. The Hoos have experience at long snapper with Danny Caracciolo handling all the field goal and PAT snaps just as he did last year. Additionally, Tucker Finkelston is back snapping on punts which he did all of last year. As a bonus, Finkelston chipped in with two fumble recoveries last year.
Jacob Finn highlights the newcomers. Nash Griffin is gone, making way for Finn who is a graduate transfer from Florida. Finn was fantastic last year averaging over 46 yards per punt with 14 of 26 ending up inside the 20. For comparison, Griffin, while very good for Virginia over his career, had a 43 yard average and had 12 of 42 punts end up inside the 20. Ronnie Walker Jr. isn’t necessarily a newcomer, but he does enter a new role handling kickoff returns. A dynamic runner, Walker should provide some electricity to the return game which wasn’t necessarily seen last year after Reed graduated.
Virginia opens their season Saturday under the lights when they host William and Mary.