Wicks, Kemp IV see big things in store for 2022 UVA offense

By Kenneth Cross
JerryRatcliffe.com correspondent

Dontayvion Wicks (3) and Billy Kemp IV (4). (Photos: UVA Athletics)

Virginia’s offense wreaked havoc in 2021, as the Cavaliers averaged 518.8 yards per game and their opponents yielded 34.6 points. 

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong will once again have a plethora of difference makers back on offense, with leading receiver Dontayvion Wicks returning with a pair of divisive wide-receiving prospects in Keytaon Thompson and Billy Kemp IV.

Wicks, who went over 100 yards receiving six times, caught 57 passes for 1,203 yards. He turned into the go-to man for Armstrong and the Cavaliers’ offense.

His 100.3 yards per game was third in the league behind Jordan Addison of then-Pitt (113.8) and North Carolina’s Josh Downs (102.7). 

Since Addison has transferred to USC, Wicks could potentially battle Downs for the top spot in receiving yardage this season.

Wicks has immense talent as a route runner and pass catcher, as he proved in 2021 after having to stay out of the lineup in 2020 with a preseason injury. 

The junior from Plaquemine, La., discussed the differences he sees in last season’s offense and the new offensive attack that coach Tony Elliott and offensive coordinator Des Kitchings have brought to Charlottesville.

“I feel like both of them have the goods and it’s just different,” said Wicks of the two offensive attacks. “This year is a lot of doing more stuff, around every level. Last year was all the deep threat, just being able to work through the offense with the team.”

Wicks has been named to the Biletnikoff Watch List and the Maxwell Award Watch List during this preseason. 

He had three games at mid-season last year where he went over 100 receiving yards in each and caught four touchdown passes, with 418 yards on 17 catches. Virginia took wins in two of those over Duke and Georgia Tech before losing at BYU.

The 6-foot-1 speedster explained how he managed to pile up so many yards in the passing game.

“Being in the offensive group and being able to open up everything with so many weapons,” said Wicks. “We also had Brennan in the backfield with the weapon he is.”

Kemp, who had 725 yards on 74 catches with six touchdowns, was in the top five in the ACC in catches as well as TDs. He thinks this version of Virginia’s offense may allow the Cavaliers to pile up even more yardage.

“I think our attention to detail is just going to be much better this year,” Kemp said. “Being with Coach Kitchings, he’s been on us every day with alignment, assignment, and things within the route that will make us better football players.”

Kemp, who had at least three receptions in every game last season, will impress Kitchings, who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2000. The former North Carolina State running backs coach has made an impression on the offense with extra routes for the receivers, as well as regard to how hard the work has been.

“I am looking forward to running any route that Coach Kitchings has for me,” explained Kemp. “I had a lot of underneath stuff last year. I look forward to showing him I can run any route in this offense — being available and healthy and ready to run routes when he needs me to.”

Wicks will make an impression on the new coaching staff with his leadership skills. After 1,203 yards in 2021, the 6-1 junior realizes the importance of a leadership role within a team or within a position.

“The leader role is coming up bigger this year because there are a lot of people looking up to me and I help the team go,” stated Wicks.

Wicks noted that his motivation is to bring the energy and the level of achievement up throughout a practice. This mindset will transfer itself into a game and give the wide-receiving group the opportunity for solid games.

He also discussed a much more dominant running attack for Virginia, which will make for an effective passing game as well.

“I feel like that will open up much more for the receivers,” noted Wicks. “As receivers, we know we won’t get as many opportunities as last year and when we do get those opportunities, we just have to make the most of them.”

Let’s get started

Players were discussing how the new staff came in and talked to them about how and why they became football players.

The thought process was interesting to the players who took themselves back to when they were young children and learning football.

Kemp, who had a pair of 100-yard receiving outings, thought back to his childhood.

“My dad, my uncle, and my grandpa — growing up they all played football,” Kemp said. “At Sunday dinners, they would have me outside running routes and catching passes until their arms got tired. This was just a big connecting factor for my family being with my dad, my grandpa, and my uncles. They had a lot to teach me at a young age. Them being coaches for me through rec ball helped stimulate the love for me.”

Linebacker Hunter Stewart, who started five games last year, had many of the same thoughts and feelings as he liked the idea and the outpouring of thinking that it brought to the team on both sides of the ball.

“I like the mindset that the defensive staff is coming with,” said Stewart of the thinking exercise. “We are trying to really improve. We had a disappointing season last season and we are moving past that.”

Thought processes in all sports can build throughout a week, a practice, or a game. Stewart and Kemp both see how this type of thinking can be helpful to the Cavaliers.

“Each and every day the coaches are getting on us to attack, attack, attack,” noted Stewart. “After that, we get in the film room and correct what we did wrong, but there is always a mindset of we have got to attack.”