On the week Virginia potentially lost its kicker of the future, the Cavaliers remained in a search for its kicker of now.
Last Thursday, Gary Wunderlich, considered by recruiting services to be the best kicker in the 2014 class, reneged on his April commitment to UVa and announced on Twitter a pledge to Mississippi, instead.
Wunderlich, a Memphis native, is a composite three-star prospect by 247Sports and could have immediately competed for the job in Charlottesville.
Candidates expected to challenge here next fall include Ian Frye, Dylan Sims and Willem Van Reesema.
In fact, they’re already competing.
During a Friday teleconference, Virginia head coach Mike London told media members the crowded kicking battle is ongoing.
“We have quite a few guys that are out there trying to fight for the job,” London said. “Recently, I just said, ‘Hey, listen. Let’s just get two. Let’s just go with two. Let them kick and compete. And then we’ll see what happens from there.’
“Who do we have? We’re trying to find the best leg. Field goal kicker — whether it’s Ian or R.C. [Willenbrock] or Dylan Sims. Then, it’s find the best kickoff guy. See who that might be.”
Frye is the most experienced of the group. The 6-foot-6, 195-pound redshirt sophomore was UVa’s kickoff man last season, averaging 62 yards a boot and registering 22 touchbacks on 48 tries. He also hit three of five field goal attempts with a long of 30.
Willenbrock is a Dartmouth graduate using his final year of eligibility with Virginia. The 6-foot, 185-pounder is also a Denver native, bringing him close to special teams coach Larry Lewis and his ties to that region of the country.
“I knew a little bit about R.C. out of high school because I was at Colorado State at the time,” said Lewis, a Rams assistant from 2008-11. “We weren’t recruiting the guy so I just know a little bit about him. More than anything from the head coach from Dartmouth, I just kind of listened to what he had to say, trusted his experience.”
Willenbrock played for the Big Green in 2009, kicking off three times against Penn. He missed 2010 and 2011 with injury. He was on the 2012 roster, but didn’t record a kick.
Sims is a redshirt freshman out of Lynchburg who was an all-state kicker at Jefferson Forest High School.
“It’s been competitive, but we’re down to the point now in practices where we’re going to pick two guys, those two guys will compete,” London said. “And then we’ll have a special teams practice next week where all we’re going to do is kick — the various types of kicks. The bloop kicks, the onside, the hurry-up offense type of thing. That’ll be a critical practice in evaluating the kickers from that point.”
The recently departed Drew Jarrett made eight of 12 field goal attempts for the Wahoos last season.
As for filling the Wunderlich void, London, not commenting on specific recruits, did commit to still offering a scholarship to a kicker in the 2014 class “if we can find someone out there that can help this team win, that’s got a leg, that’s been established,” he said.
The strategy links back to Tom O’Brien, UVa’s associate head coach for offense who has helped organize recruiting efforts since being hired in January.
“There was no real planned number of scholarships, it didn’t seem to be,” O’Brien said. “I can’t say that it wasn’t, but it certainly didn’t seem to be. I think that’s the feeling I got as far as positional needs, whether it’s the offense, defense or special teams.
“So the first thing that we did is, with 85 scholarships, you allow three for your specialists — your punter, your kicker, your long-snapper. And then I said to [defensive coordinator] Jon [Tenuta] and [offensive coordinator] Steve [Fairchild], you guys each get 41 scholarships.”
But how often will those special teams offers come about?
“We look at the year in school that they are right now,” London said. “If you have a guy who has two, three years that’s a snapper or a field goal kicker, then obviously there may be a rotation or cycle of recruiting that you don’t offer a field goal kicker.”