After saying last Monday that Nash Griffin was ahead in the race to start at punter, Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall changed his tune after Saturday’s spring game.
Mendenhall said junior Brian Delaney will head into the fall as a busy man. Not only will he continue in last season’s role as field goal kicker and kickoff specialist, but he now has an edge in the competition to be Lester Coleman’s successor at punter.
“Based on charting all the things we did — and I really liked Nash Griffin through the spring — but if you went just off the numbers today, we have one player in Brian Delaney, who currently, going into the fall, is all of that,” Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall said his decision was based on the entire spring, not just Saturday’s game. He also reiterated that, as with any position battle, nothing is final until the first game of the season, and sometimes not even then. But it’s a starting point.
“This is the end of spring and it may balance out a different way, but if you to say by the numbers, which kicking is numbers driven, [Delaney] is the leader in all three,” he said.
Mendenhall’s answer to a question about having concerns with one player doing three jobs, especially in the case of an injury, was “totally,” but he joked that it’s great for the scholarship count.
“It’s kind of based on which mood I’m in when I wake up,” Mendenhall said between chuckles.
After opening last fall solely as the kickoff specialist, Delaney replaced placekicker A.J. Mejia in the sixth game of the season against Miami and went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts. He finished the season 12-for-16, including one from 46 yards, and 47 of his 72 kickoffs went into the end zone for touchbacks. The 5-foot-10 Chantilly native hasn’t punted in a regular season game since his senior year at Westfield High School.
Griffin, a 6-2 junior from Indianapolis, hasn’t punted in a regular season game since high school, either. He spent the past two seasons as Coleman’s backup, but appeared in every game both years as the primary holder on field goals. He was a two-time all-state kicker and punter at Lawrence Central High School, which is the same school former UVa basketball star Kyle Guy attended.
Mendenhall fully expects it to be a tight race again when fall camp opens.
“I do really like Nash, and I think he’s capable,” Mendenhall said. “A couple bad kicks and a couple bad days, it doesn’t take much.”