Embarking on his third school in three years, Daniel Sparks is eagerly seeking to recapture some of the same the feel that unlocked the success during his first stop.
Sparks, a transfer punter with four seasons of eligibility remaining, committed to Virginia on Tuesday night and will join the Cavaliers next month in preparation for their nearing campaign.
“What it came down to was they have a really good situation for me,” Sparks said Wednesday morning, “and I absolutely love the coaches.”
Sparks said he visited UVa last weekend and was able to meet special teams coordinator Keith Gaither as well as special teams analyst Drew Meyer, who served as Sparks’ lead recruiter. Meyer punted in college at Wisconsin, and Sparks said he appreciates that UVa has someone on staff that can relate to everything he’s going through during the course of a season.
Sparks spent last year at Minnesota, where he didn’t see any action, but began his career at Louisiana-Monroe, where his 44.6 yards per punt during his rookie season was the second-best average in the Sun Belt Conference in 2020.
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“So, meeting Coach Meyer for the first time was awesome because he knows his way around the specialists’ mind and how things work,” Sparks said. “And then Coach Gaither brings the energy. He’s full of energy and I absolutely love that. He seems fired up about special teams and what they got going on this year with the new coach [Tony Elliott], and so it all fits really well.”
The 6-foot-6, 200-pound punter said during his time with Louisiana-Monroe, the Warhawks employed a former punter, Hunter Holmes, on staff, and that it worked well because Holmes provided Sparks the regular feedback he needed.
Sparks said not every college football staff has someone with punting or kicking experience for their specialists to consult. Sparks said he only left Louisiana-Monroe because of the coaching changes the school made after his freshman year.
“ULM had sort of a similar situation [to UVa],” Sparks said, “so having [Holmes] there to critique me and get me better was good, because at first, I wasn’t punting at the start of the season and then our starter decided he didn’t want to play anymore. … And my first game starting, well, it wasn’t the best because I was a little slow and I had never played in the college game. I couldn’t even tell you how fast it was because, yeah, it’s fast, so after that first game we had to get some things worked out, but then we got my speed down and it ended up being really smooth.”
In his final seven games with Louisiana-Monroe, Sparks booted six punts of 50-plus yards and landed five kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He also handled kickoff duties for the Warhawks.
“So that’s a huge part of the battle, honestly,” Sparks said, “because if you have someone you can turn to immediately on the field right after you do a rep and you can have someone critiquing you all the time, you can get better each day.”
Sparks said he can kick field goals on an emergency basis as well, but his primary focus is punting and that he’s excited to compete for the starting punting gig at UVa.
The Cavaliers have a void following the graduation of Jacob Finn, a 2021 Pro Football Focus All-Atlantic Coast Conference second-teamer. Finn averaged 44.2 yards per punt last year and that was the fifth-best single-season average in UVa history.
Sparks garnered interest from Miami and FCS Jackson State before deciding on the Hoos. He said on his trip to Charlottesville, he also enjoyed meeting Cavaliers long snapper Lee Dudley, who was able to share some information about the program and special teams units.
Sparks said he’s excited for the chance to punt in the ACC.
“That’s absolutely firing me up,” he said, “because I played last in the Sun Belt and then I didn’t get to play in the Big Ten. I was there, but didn’t see the field, so being able to have a shot to run out there and be on that big stage is firing me up.”
Ahead of beginning his career at Louisiana-Monroe, he punted during his senior year at Gadsden City (Ala.) High School after playing soccer in the years prior.