Mendenhall

Virginia head football coach Bronco Mendenhall speaks during a press conference on signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

When Bronco Mendenhall announced his first “real” recruiting class on Wednesday, the least sexy player on that 26-man roster was Brian Delaney from Chantilly.

He’s a kicker and a punter. Don’t even underestimate his value to Virginia’s football program.

“He might be the most highly touted, in terms of credentials, of anyone in the class, and might be the most overlooked,” Mendenhall said during his signing day press conference.

That’s not to undervalue some of the more high-profile players such as defensive back Germane Crowell, quarterback Lindell Stone or Notre Dame transfer Colin McGovern. Mendenhall was referring to credentials, and the Northern Virginia kicker/punter has ’em.

Delaney was rated as the No. 1 punter in the country by Kohl’s Kicking Camp, which brings together the best for competitions. He was a first-team MaxPreps All-American punter, an Under Armour All-American punter and played in that company’s national all-star game. He was rated the No. 2 kicker in the country by ESPN, No. 5 by 247Sports.

“Throughout high school, I was ranked second in the country and it was always my goal to be No. 1,” Delaney said Wednesday from Westfield High School. “Lots of hard work paid off, helped me get here. A lot of that was determination and doing what it took to reach my goal. I wouldn’t stop working until I got an offer. I’m blessed that it came from Virginia.”

Perhaps the Cavaliers are the ones who are blessed. Any Wahoo fan who sat through the frustrations of Virginia’s place kicking last season is well aware of how badly it needed to sign a reliable leg.

Remember the 13-10 loss at UConn? Alex Furbank, who showed up out of nowhere, a former soccer player at Randolph-Macon, tried hard but struggled mightily. He missed a 20-yard field goal as time expired, a kick that could have at least sent a winnable game into overtime.

How about the last-second, 32-25 loss to Louisville at Scott Stadium? A former UVa soccer player, Sam Hayward, made a 27-yarder earlier in the game but missed from 30, which would have put even more pressure on the Cardinals to score on that memorable last drive.

In a 31-17 loss at Georgia Tech, UVa trailed 24-17 with a little over seven minutes to play in a game where Hayward was 1-for-3. He missed from 31, made from 30 and missed from 42 in the third.

The Cavaliers didn’t even attempt a field goal in a loss at Wake Forest.

There were times where Mendenhall decided to just go for it on fourth down rather than risk a missed field goal.

There are more examples, but you get the picture.

Virginia kickers made five field goals all season. That’s not a typo. That’s the least field goals made by the Cavaliers since 1978 (3). UVa only attempted 10 field goals in 2016, also the lowest number of attempts since ’78 (9).

While that’s not the exclusive reason, Mendenhall decided to go for it 23 times on fourth down.

Delaney showed up at the Kohl’s Kicking Camp held at Virginia last June, where director Chris Sailer ran the operation, which draws the top legs in the region and some from around the country. Sailer opined that Delaney was the best in camp, definitely as a punter, but impressive with leg strength and accuracy.

Virginia offered him that very day and as excited as Delaney was, he decided to wait a day, talk with his parents, and then accept. He was talking mostly to North Carolina and Virginia Tech prior to saying yes to the Cavaliers, but the interest in his skills increased after he committed.

Mendenhall loved that Delaney could do both, which saves a scholarship for a program that is desperately attempting to even up holes at various positions. Losing one of the country’s top punters in Nick Conte, Mendenhall mentioned that it’s extremely important to replace him with someone who can help the Cavaliers swap field position, something he said the program is “going to need for a while.”

“Now you have a weapon that can add three points more frequently, and even one point more frequently, and we need that,” the UVa coach as he plans for his second season at the helm.

“He was not only needed, he was wanted,” Mendenhall said.

Kohl’s evaluation was that Delaney can be a weapon at the FBS level in year one.

“One of the major reasons I committed as early as I did was that I trusted Virginia’s coaching staff,” Delaney said. “I wanted to be a part of the rise of the program.”

His punting ability is strong, his regular season average dialing in at 46 yards as a senior. Delaney knows how important that role is, particularly with the departure of Conte, who averaged 44.3 last season for UVa.

“I know that Conte had an amazing season punting and I want to keep that trend going,” Delaney said. “If I find myself kicking field goals, which I believe I will, I want to do the best I can to help my team win.”

It should be noted that Hayward is no longer on the Virginia roster.

Last season Delaney said he was 13-for-17 in field goal attempts, and 4-for-7 in kicks of 40 or more yards.

His point of emphasis is kicking field goals off the ground (without using a tee), something he worked hard on last summer. Now, he’s back and hoping to improve his range and accuracy. His leg is strong on kickoffs, with 80 percent resulting in touchbacks.

Maybe it’s not sexy, but Conte exhibited how valuable a punter can be. UVa’s place-kickers reminded us of how valuable a reliable leg is as well.

Nah, it’s not sexy, but over the next four years, Delaney’s addition could prove to be huge.

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Jerry Ratcliffe is the Daily Progress' sports reporter and columnist. Contact him at (434) 978-7250, jratcliffe@dailyprogress.com, or on Twitter @JerryRatcliffe.

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