The Virginia football team is coming off its first eight-win season since 2011 and a dominant performance in the Belk Bowl against South Carolina.
Add to that the Cavaliers’ highest-rated recruiting class since 2014 and it’s easy to see how expectations in Charlottesville are at a level unmatched by any UVa football team in the past decade.
The unofficial transition from summer to fall begins in a couple weeks with ACC Media Days in Charlotte, North Carolina. Leading up to the event, we’ll feature 19 UVa players to watch in 2019. Some are familiar names. Some are new.
All are expected to play massive roles in Virginia’s continued rebuild this season.
Wide receivers Joe Reed and Tavares Kelly showed glimpses late last season, but the consistent vertical threat head coach Bronco Mendenhall spent the year in search of never materialized. So, this offseason, the Cavaliers’ coaches went out and found one.
Number 13 in our countdown of 19 players to watch in 2019 is graduate transfer wide receiver Dejon Brissett, who left Richmond with a career average of 14.9 yards per catch. During his breakout year for the Spiders in 2017, he hauled in 63 passes for 896 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged 81.5 receiving yards a game. He opened that season with back-to-back 100-yard games, which is a feat he has accomplished six times in his career.
Tale of the tape
Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Last season: Brissett played in just three games before an injury ended his season, but he made his time on the field count. He was held in check in the season opener at Virginia but amassed four catches for 178 yards and a touchdown the following week against Fordham. The next weekend at St. Francis, he added nine grabs for 104 yards and a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Depth at the position: Brissett has the shiftiness and speed to be a match-up problem for linebackers and some safeties, and Virginia’s coaches want to take advantage of that by lining him up all over the field. Given his size and ability to get vertical, he may compete for snaps on the outside with Joe Reed (Sr.) and Terrell Jana (Jr.), or he could move into the slot and potentially take a few snaps from sophomores Tavares Kelly and Billy Kemp.
Number to know: 18.7. Before his injury last season, Brissett was averaging 18.7 yards per catch. Last season, UAB’s Xavier Ubosi led the country in that category with 23.91.
Outlook: When healthy, Brissett fills a pair of needs for the Cavaliers. At this point in his career, he understands how to run routes and what defenses are trying to do. That, combined with his speed, will probably earn him snaps in the slot. His speed also gives Virginia the downfield option Mendenhall was so desperately searching for. When it comes down to it, the additions of Brissett and fellow graduate transfer receiver Terrell Chatman give UVa’s play-callers more options, which is never a bad thing, and adds a couple more veteran voices to a wide receivers’ room full of youngsters.
Return game options
Beyond his ability to stretch defenses vertically, Brissett checks another big box for the Cavaliers. His is another name on a growing list of potential kick and punt returners. At Richmond, Brissett returned 41 kicks for 941 yards and a touchdown for a career average of 23 yards per return. He also returned 12 punts, and as a sophomore, took one 92 yards to the house.
Last season, Reed was Virginia’s primary kick returner.
He struggled early in the season but hit his stride with 90-yard return for a touchdown against Liberty and 122 return yards the following week at Georgia Tech. Kelly and Chuck Davis (Jr.) handled the bulk of the punts, with Kemp emerging in the weeks leading up to the Belk Bowl. This fall, a crowded field of punt returners will compete for snaps.
Brissett’s addition gives Virginia a pair of receivers who hail from Canada. He left home in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, to play his high school ball at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, where, as a senior, he put up 862 yards and eight touchdowns. Before spending his final two years of high school right up the road from Charlottesville at Woodberry Forest, Terrell Jana called Vancouver, British Columbia, home. He was discovered during international 7-on-7 tournaments and recruited to Woodberry by current UVa quarterback Lindell Stone.
This year, Virginia also went across the pond to add to its collection of European players on the roster. Quarterback Luke Wentz and offensive lineman Kariem Al Soufi — both hailing from Germany — signed national letters of intent.
They join sophomore offensive lineman Gerrik Vollmer, who is from Hamburg, Germany. The Cavaliers also tried to add German defensive tackle Emil Bo Anderson and French defensive lineman Jeffrey M’ba to their 2019 class, but Anderson fell off because of admissions issues and M’ba reclassified to 2020 and reopened his recruitment.