The impact of the Virginia football team’s 2019 season started to take shape Wednesday.
A year after the Cavaliers beat Virginia Tech, won the ACC Coastal Division championship and played in the Orange Bowl, they brought in the top-rated recruiting class of Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure.
Among the notable attributes of this season’s 24-person class that signed Wednesday, nine grew up in Virginia and played their high school football in the state. Another prospect, offensive lineman Logan Taylor, grew up in Canada, but played high school football in the commonwealth. Cornerback Langston Long went a different route, playing his final high school season in North Carolina despite growing up in Virginia.
In total, 11 of UVa’s 24 signees for the 2021 recruiting class either grew up in Virginia or played high school football in the state.
“It’s been a point of emphasis since I arrived, even though the numbers haven’t always reflected it,” Mendenhall said. “We start every single year, and have since I’ve been the coach, in-state.”
Unfortunately for UVa, the in-state efforts weren’t rewarded in the last recruiting class. Mendenhall said the Cavaliers offered and really wanted eight in-state players a season ago, but none of those eight signed with the Wahoos in 2019 as part of the 2020 recruiting class.
Despite disappointing in-state numbers, Mendenhall called his shot at a press conference last December with the Cavaliers preparing for the Orange Bowl after a recent win over Virginia Tech. He expected more interest from in-state standouts.
“There’s a different, I would say, perception that is formed through winning and through excellence,” Mendenhall said last December. “I think that’ll take a significant step forward.”
Mendenhall was right.
Nearly half of UVa’s class has a connection to the commonwealth. Among those players are a handful of potential stars.
“It has taken time to gain traction,” Mendenhall said Wednesday. “It’s taken time to build relationships. It’s taken time to build credibility. It’s taken time to establish momentum. But each year, it becomes better. Each year it becomes more productive, and this year the number alone certainly reflects that.”
Bryce Carter, a defensive lineman who reclassified to the 2021 recruiting class, is arguably the top prospect in the entire class. He’s a disruptive force from Chester and could quickly earn playing time at a position of need for the Wahoos.
Jay Woolfolk, a Richmond native, represents a possible budding star within Virginia athletics. The stellar athlete plays quarterback, and he’s also expected to play baseball during his time at UVa. He throws the ball well and moves with quickness and agility.
UVa also added two Charlottesville products.
Malachi Fields will play wide receiver for the Cavaliers, and Mendenhall believes he might be Virginia’s most underrated prospect in the 2021 class. Jonas Sanker is an athletic defensive back who flipped his commitment from Boston College to UVa. Both players have high ceilings.
Perhaps the most promising sign for Virginia fans is the coaching staff’s ability to gain commitments from across Virginia. UVa added two players from Charlottesville, a linebacker from Williamsburg, another linebacker from Roanoke and an offensive lineman who plays his high school football in Alexandria.
Aidan Ryan comes to UVa from Fredericksburg. He had his eye on UVa before the program’s increased success, but the victories and proven results from Mendenhall kept Virginia at the top of his list.
“Coach Mendenhall is a development coach,” Ryan said. “I’m able to see what he’s able to do with these young kids and just really make them the best men they can be; not just football players but the best in life so they’re ready to graduate college and get ready for the real world.”
Ryan says he’s seen Mendenhall turn three-star high school recruits into five-star college players. He believes UVa is the right choice for him, and he’s excited to be one of the many in-state products joining the Wahoos.
He called the influx of in-state commitments “special.”
“It’s an attractive thing to see an in-state school getting in-state recruits,” Ryan said. “It shows that they’re doing something right.”
After five years at UVa, Bronco Mendenhall and his coaching staff are starting to develop strong relationships and trust with high school coaches and players across Virginia. That stems from time in the area cultivating relationships coupled with on-field success.
The result in 2020 was the best recruiting class of Mendenhall’s time at UVa.
“Sometimes there are more in-state prospects of quality at the Power 5 level, and sometimes there are less,” Mendenhall said. “But what we are finding is that with the consistency of the program, the consistency of the direction, it just is over time, and trust is built with time, that’s one of the components, the needle is moving, the tipping point is arriving, and the swing is starting.”