Delaney’s Foot Erases UVA Fans’ Misery In Kicking Game

By Scott Ratcliffe

Virginia’s Brian Delaney attempts a field goal against Virginia Tech last season (Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Media Relations).

Over the first few years of the Bronco Mendenhall era at Virginia, just about every time the Cavaliers lined up for a field goal, most UVA fans would either wince or cover their eyes with low expectations.

That all changed midway through last season when Brian Delaney took over the responsibilities. Though he may not be the biggest guy on the team (listed at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds), his right leg has been huge time and again for Mendenhall and the Cavaliers.

When Delaney ran onto David A. Harrison Field for his first collegiate field-goal try last season in a crucial game against nationally-ranked ACC Coastal Division rival Miami, the butterflies were there. However, it wasn’t his first time playing on the Scott Stadium turf.

A 2017 first-team MaxPreps and Under Armour All-American punter, Delaney was rated as both a 5-star punter and placekicker by Kohl’s Kicking, a national recruiting service strictly for specialists. He helped lead Westfield HS in Chantilly to back-to-back 6A VHSL state titles, the first of which was played at Scott Stadium to conclude his junior season in 2015.

Jumping back to 2018, Delaney was UVA’s third kicker to attempt a field goal — in just the sixth game of the season — after A.J. Mejia started 1 for 4. Hunter Pearson went 2 for 2 against Louisville after Mejia lost the starting job, and then Delaney, who was already handling kickoffs, won the weekly competition for the field-goal job prior to the Miami game.

The Hurricanes came into Charlottesville on a five-game win streak and were ranked No. 16 in the country, and the game was scoreless when Delaney came in for his first attempt — a relatively easy 26-yarder early in the second quarter — and knocked it through for the game’s first points.

After making good on his first extra point, Delaney was called on again at the end of the first half, with the Cavaliers ahead 10-6. With the clock expiring, Delaney nailed one from 46 yards out to send the ‘Hoos into halftime with a touchdown lead.

With 10:49 remaining in the contest, Delaney completed the hat trick, hitting his third field goal of the night (this one from 32) to help seal the upset, and was even chosen to break the rock, symbolic of Virginia’s player of the game, afterwards.

Delaney’s held down the field-goal duties ever since. He went on to make 9 of his 13 attempts over the remainder of the 2018 season, and all 24 PATs over the final seven games, leading the team in scoring with 61 points on the year. Delaney’s offseason saw him at one point win all three kicking jobs in camp — field goals, kickoffs and punting.

“I think just having a full off-season and fall camp and all that to just really lock in and understand what each rep really means, and just practice differently and work better on the mental aspect, I think it’s had a big difference,” Delaney said of his overall development.

Although junior Nash Griffin has since taken over the punting chores, Delaney and the rest of the Wahoo kickers know that it’ll be an open weekly competition for all three positions all year long.

“Everyone wants to play,” Delaney admitted. “We’re all friendly with it and we’re just going at it, so it helps.”

Delaney was very impressed by Griffin’s first performance as punter Saturday against Pitt after serving as holder last season.

“Nash had a great game,” said Delaney. “He definitely helped flip the field, in the fourth quarter for sure, and had some big punts. It was a great first game.”

Delaney said that while it will remain a personal goal of his to compete for all three spots, the ultimate goal for the entire unit, and the entire team for that matter, is “winning each game and doing the best each rep.”

“When the team needs, or if the team needs, just stepping into each role and just staying ready for whatever the moment has,” he said.

On Saturday night, Delaney delivered another masterful performance in the season opener at Pitt. The junior looked like a seasoned veteran in the NFL stadium, connecting on three of his four field-goal tries — from 39, 36 and 45 yards, respectively — and also made good on all three PATs, finishing Game 1 with a game-high 12 points. “The Delaney Dozen,” we’ll call it, was good enough to lead all ACC kickers through the first week, earning him all-conference Specialist of the Week honors. He’s one of only 19 FBS kickers to have made at least three field goals already.

It was the first time a Wahoo kicker had nailed three-plus kicks from 35 yards out or further since just before Mendenhall’s arrival in Charlottesville (Ian Frye, 2015).

But what about those butterflies compared to his first kick last season?

“I’d say I probably handled the nerves a little bit better tonight,” Delaney said after the Cavaliers’ first-ever win in Pittsburgh. “It’s just being able to set each thing aside and kind of take it for what it is, but I’d like to say I’m more prepared this year and I hope that’s the case going forward.”

After finally knocking off the Panthers, Delaney said the team would celebrate the achievement, but that it’s on to the next one.

“We’ve been talking about [the Pitt game] for a while and just had a big focus on the game, but it’s going to be the same for each game going forward,” he said. “Not much changes with each one, it’s just taking each game for what it is. It’s always great to get a win, but I just try to take each game and each rep for what it is and not try to think more into it.”

When Delaney’s kicks are successful, he is typically mobbed by his teammates for his efforts, which he says is a great feeling.

“The whole team’s great about it,” said Delaney of the congratulations, “and then especially if you narrow it down to a couple of guys on the team. Reed Kellam is always out there giving me a high-five and stuff, and you’ve got the rest of the specialists, who are always just very supportive. [Mejia] is the first one to come up right after a kick, so it’s great having those guys around.”

Likewise, the rest of the team is happy to have Delaney and his strong, reliable leg around, and they’ll all be ready to cheer him back to the sideline after the next important make.


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