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.
No. 18 on our list is freshman offensive lineman Ja’Quay Hubbard.
Scouts for the Virginia football team have been scouring the globe for NFL body types, and our countdown of 19 players to watch in 2019 continues with Hubbard, one of the Cavaliers’ most physically impressive members of the incoming freshman class.
Reminiscent of former Virginia lineman Morgan Moses, who is now a member of the Washington Redskins, Hubbard stepped on Grounds with grown-man measurables and deceptive athleticism. If Hubbard follows in Moses’ footsteps, the Cavaliers have found the anchor on their offensive line for the foreseeable future.
Tale of the tape
» Height: 6-6
» Weight: 330
» Hometown: Sharpsville, Pennsylvania
» Last season: Hubbard started at left tackle and helped Sharpsville High School reach the District 10 championship game.
» Depth at the position: Ryan Nelson (So.) started every game last season at left tackle, but he can also play guard. Penn State graduate transfer Alex Gellerstedt is sure to be in the running to start at right tackle, which is where 6-10 sophomore Ryan Swoboda saw extended time this spring. Bobby Haskins (So.) also saw limited snaps on the edge last season.
» Number to know: 0. Virginia has not had an offensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Branden Albert (2008) and Eugene Monroe (2009). That’s obviously an impossible expectation to heap onto a first-year player, but Hubbard has the size to intrigue pro scouts, and coming out of high school, 247sports.com ranked him the No. 2 offensive tackle in Pennsylvania.
» Outlook: The question surrounding Hubbard is where will he line up? His length and athleticism suggest he’s destined to be a tackle, but if he proves physically ready to be on the field this fall, the coaches won’t hesitate to plug him in at guard. Some combination of Chris Glaser, Victor Oluwatimi and Dillon Reinkensmeyer is most likely to start at guard early in the season, but Virginia’s coaches have shown a propensity for playing freshmen in recent years. Last season, 13 true freshmen saw action.
Book end or road grader?
For years, Sharpsville High School football coach Paul Piccirilli resisted the temptation to can his traditional wing-t offense for what he calls “AAU ball” – a wide-open spread offense, which “everybody runs these days,” he said.
So, for the first two years of his high school career, Hubbard lined up at guard – a critical position in any wing-t scheme. When Piccirilli finally gave in and went with the spread, Hubbard moved to left tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side, which is exactly where Virginia’s coaches would like to see him end up.
“He pulled, trapped and did everything we needed,” Piccirilli said. “For his size, he’s got the best feet and hand coordination I’ve seen in a long time. He’s so athletic, where ever [the Cavaliers] play him, they will be pleased.”
As a freshman, Hubbard weighed more than 400 pounds, but he was still athletic enough to start on a team full of seniors.
He started picking up some recruiting buzz from Syracuse and Rutgers and somewhere along the way a coach mentioned to him that he would have his pick of schools if he just lost some weight. Piccirilli said within a year Hubbard had lost 100 pounds.
Even weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 330 pounds, Hubbard had the athleticism to get up and down the court every winter as a member of the varsity basketball team at Sharpsville. Piccirilli said part of the reason Hubbard didn’t enroll at UVa in January was that he wanted to finish his final basketball season with his friends.