SALEM — Joe Von Storch didn’t start playing football until his junior year at Charlottesville High School, but this fall, he’ll become the latest local athlete to join the Virginia football team as a walk-on.
After helping Charlottesville’s boys soccer team win its first state championship since 2004, he’ll walk away from the sport he’s played his entire life and join what is quickly becoming a crowded field of kickers vying for snaps in Scott Stadium.
When he got a call in January offering a spot of the Cavaliers’ roster, Von Storch said it was a no-brainer.
“UVa was kind of the place I wanted to go, whether or not athletics were involved. Once I got the opportunity, I didn’t really have to think about it too much,” Von Storch said. “I just want to prove to the coaches I can be a good student, and hopefully down the road put myself in a position to get on the field and maybe earn a scholarship.”
Von Storch joins linebacker Dre Bryant (Charlottesville), defensive back Darren Klein (Western Albemarle) and former Woodberry Forest long snapper Lee Dudley, who is in the running to start this season. After giving up his spot on the UVa baseball team this spring, former St. Anne’s-Belfield wide receiver Jalen Harrison also joined as a walk-on.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m going to be on the field with tens of thousands of fans around me,” Von Storch said. “As a walk-on freshman, I don’t expect to be seeing too much time on the field. But my goal is that in two, three years down the road I can put myself in a position to be on the field for sure.”
Von Storch began soccer season as a forward, but whenever the tougher teams showed up on the schedule, he often found himself on the defensive end. That’s where he played in two state tournament games over the weekend at Roanoke College. He helped the Black Knights surrender just three goals despite those contests featuring two undefeated opponents and Jamestown’s Michael Meese, whose lone goal in the semifinals was his 52nd of the season.
“You can play him anywhere and you know you’re going to get 110 percent from him,” Charlottesville boys soccer coach Martin Braun said. “Whenever I need someone back there [on defense] who I can trust, I throw him back there.”
During track season, Von Storch was a long jumper and sprinter, competing in everything from the 55-meter dash during the indoor season to the 100-, 200- and 300-meter events during the outdoor season. As a senior, he finished fifth in the long jump at the state indoor and outdoor meets.
“Obviously, leaving soccer and leaving track behind, that was a tough decision,” Von Storch said. “But playing a sport at a school I love, that was an easy decision for me.”
Charlottesville football coach Eric Sherry recruited Von Storch three years ago while chaperoning the boys soccer team on a trip to Roanoke College for the first of its three-straight state tournament runs. It was Sherry who reached out to Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall about Von Storch.
“I was letting them know that Joe is their type of kid,” Sherry said. “We’re talking about a kid with a GPA over 4.0. Everything he does he’s good at, and he’s only going to enhance what they do. Joe could have gone somewhere else and played soccer or gone to an Ivy League school, but he wanted to be at UVa, and I think he fits the pattern of type of kid they have.”
Von Storch handled kickoffs and field goals for the Black Knights. He also played wide receiver and safety, and Sherry said that experience combined with his athleticism could land him in any number of roles on the Cavaliers’ special teams.
“Obviously they’re going to look at him at kicker, but they’re going to see how fast he is and maybe he can contribute in other ways,” Sherry said.
Von Storch will have plenty of competition for playing time. This fall, he’ll be the seventh potential kicker on the Cavaliers’ roster.
AJ Mejia started last season but gave way to Brian Delaney, who, according to Mendenhall, ended the spring as the favorite to start at kicker and punter. Both are juniors. Redshirt freshman Hunter Pearson missed all of last season with an injury, and he joins Delaney as the only two kickers currently on scholarship.
Junior Nash Griffin is listed on the roster as a punter and kicker, and coming in with this season’s freshman class are highly touted kicker Justin Duenkel and Brendan Farrell, who may also wear multiple hats as a kicker and punter.
Von Storch has a steep hill to climb just to get on the field, but Sherry said that kind of thing doesn’t bother him.
“They could have 16 kickers and he wouldn’t care,” Sherry said. “He’s not scared of competition.”