Bronco Mendenhall and the Virginia Cavaliers football program received some much-needed good news the last couple weeks when they landed multiple high-profile commitments in the 2019 class. Included in their haul were the program’s first four-star players since 2015: Hunter Stewart, a linebacker from Washington DC, and Jowon Briggs, a defensive tackle from Cincinnati. Briggs is rated as the second-best defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.
Talk about good timing. These commitments came at a moment when UVA football desperately needed some good news.
Consider the program’s last seven months:
- On November 11, Virginia led then-second-ranked Miami 28-14 in the 3rd quarter on the road. The Hoos gave up 30 unanswered points to the Hurricanes in the second half to lose.
- They lost to rival Virginia Tech for the 14th straight time the following week.
- The got manhandled by Navy in the Military Bowl in front of a sizable (and very cold) Wahoo fan contingent.
- They signed a lowly-ranked (60th) recruiting class last winter.
- They lost six defensive linemen to retirement and dismissal, leaving a huge question mark for the upcoming season.
- They got embarrassed on the recruiting trail when instate lineman Ben Smiley committed, then reneged on his commitment within a half hour.
- They got embarrassed again on the recruiting trail again by losing the recruiting battle for Cam’Ron Kelly, an instate cornerback. The Kelly sweepstakes was such a farce that he ended up committing to Virginia Tech, who he hadn’t even included in his top eight.
- On June 10, one report from a beat writer painted Mendenhall’s comments to the Board of Visitors in an unflattering light. Naturally, those comments made national headlines, although multiple other outlets have added the necessary pieces to put the comments in full context.
Or, if you prefer pictures, here’s a live look at Virginia’s off-season prior to the Stewart and Briggs announcements:
Virginia won six games in 2017 and went to its first bowl game in six years. But the narrative around the program doesn’t seem to have changed much. Rather than touting progress, Mendenhall’s comments to the BOV highlighted a harsh truth: rebuilding UVA football remains a massive undertaking. Neither Mendenhall nor new athletic director Carla Williams has been shy about Virginia’s deficit in football funding, its crumbling facilities, or its difficulty gaining instate recruiting momentum.
Honesty and transparency are commendable. But even the most patient fan base needs a reason for excitement and optimism when considering whether to pony up for tickets. That’s why the surprise commitments from the likes of Stewart and Briggs are so welcome: Virginia fans finally have a reason to celebrate. And for the first time since landing Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding in 2014, UVA has a little “juice” on the recruiting trail.
Virginia has had an active week with over a half-dozen commits since Monday led by #ESPN300 DT Jowon Briggs; He's the 1st E300 commit of the Bronco Mendenhall era. #UVA also going International; as it now has 3 commits from Europe pic.twitter.com/8cfjC4Toni— Craig Haubert (@CraigHaubert) June 23, 2018
We can’t know for sure if Virginia’s recent run of recruiting success is just a temporary blip or a sign of things to come. And none of the players committing to UVA now will be able to help the team this fall. Making another bowl game this season will be a tough task as Virginia replaces Brown, Blanding, Kurt Benkert, and Micah Kiser.
But for the first time in ages, there’s a glimmer of hope. The good ship Wahoo has been adrift at sea since before the first iPhone was released. And Mendenhall has spent the past two seasons patching the holes and baling out water. Now it finally looks like there’s land on the horizon. Time will tell if the Wahoos can reach it.