Bronco Mendenhall’s focus in his first full recruiting year at Virginia was simple: work toward balance.
The Cavaliers football coach has long made it a priority to go back to recruiting basics and even out what he calls the “mismanaged” roster he inherited upon his arrival in December 2015. Mendenhall calls it succession planning: The goal has always been to level the classes, position by position, so no area is left short-handed when players graduate or leave for the NFL draft.
Mendenhall’s 2017 class of signees, made official Wednesday on National Signing Day, made steps in that direction. The group of 25 is fairly evenly distributed across positions, with special attention being paid to the offensive line, Mendenhall’s other pet project since he took the reins at Virginia.
“I would say this class would be foundational,” Mendenhall said. “I think that’s the word that resonated most with me in how to describe it, meaning that we have great relationships with this class, we found most of them relatively early, from the moment I was hired, and they understood and listened and believed in the vision of our program.
“Here’s the need that we have: We need more size, we need more strength, we need more athleticism, and we need more depth. So this class addresses all … but this alone will not propel us to instant gratification. This now is, though, a step in the right direction of long-term succession planning and short-term results, meaning we were able to add a few graduate transfers in to immediately address a needs that have to be addressed.”
For short-term needs, Virginia took on six offensive linemen Wednesday, the biggest position group of the class. The Cavaliers allowed 36 sacks in the 2016 season, the most they have allowed in a season since 2009. Mendenhall specified he’ll look for another offensive line group of that size next year as well.
Transfer quarterback Marvin Zanders, a backup at Missouri expected to graduate this May with two remaining years of eligibility, was added in the days preceding National Signing Day as another stopgap.
Zanders, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback from Florida, provides another, more experienced option at quarterback for the Cavaliers in addition to 2016 starter Kurt Benkert, a redshirt junior. Zanders completed 10 of 12 passes in eight games last season with the Tigers, throwing for 114 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
Zanders will join Benkert, redshirt freshmen Sonny Abramson and De’Vante Cross and 2017 signee Lindell Stone in the group.
“Anyone we bring as a grad transfer can help us fill an immediate need — where we need someone to contribute at a high level right away,” Mendenhall said. “Ideally it would be a starter, the lowest level I would like that to be for a grad transfer is at least in the rotation.”
Notably, Mendenhall’s first recruiting class is also evenly distributed geographically, with 12 states represented. Eight recruits attended high school in Virginia (five are Virginia natives and three attended boarding school in Woodberry Forest, Va.) but Mendenhall, a Utah native, didn’t sign a recruit from Richmond for the first year since 2004. The coach also didn’t sign a recruit from Virginia’s Tidewater region for the second year in a row, despite sending out two of the Cavaliers’ most gregarious coaches — Marques Hagans in the Tidewater and Ruffin McNeill in Richmond.
“We put great people there, in my opinion and did a very good job of seeing who might fit, and the ones that we wanted didn’t want us,” Mendenhall said. “It takes both — and some wanted us, we didn’t want them — but we will continue to go anywhere in state with great emphasis and great resources to find players.”
Virginia Class of 2017 singees, with rankings per Rivals.com:
DL Mandy Alonso, 6-2, 290 pounds, Miami (two stars)
RB Lamont Atkins, 5-11, 200 pounds, Burke, Va. (three stars) *
DB Joey Blount, 6-2, 180 pounds, Fayetteville, Ga. (two stars)
DB Darrius Bratton, 6-1, 160 pounds, Roanoke (three stars)
LB Elliott Brown, 6-6, 220 pounds, Odenton, Md. (two stars)
DL Isaac Buell, 6-4, 260 pounds, Knoxville, Tenn. (two stars)
DB Riah Burton, 6-1, 180 pounds, New Castle, Del. (three stars) *
DL Tommy Christ, 6-5, 270 pounds, Sterling, Va. (three stars)
DB Germane Crowell, 6-3, 185 pounds, Winston-Salem, N.C. (three stars) *
K Brian Delaney, 5-11, 200 pounds, Chantilly, Va. (two stars)
OL Tyler Fannin, 6-3, 290 pounds, Hoschton, Ga. (three stars)
LB Matt Gahm, 6-3, 225 pounds, Highland Park, Tex. (three stars)
OL Chris Glaser, 6-4, 255 pounds, Solon, Ohio (three stars)
WR-DB Terrell Jana, 6-1, 190 pounds, Burnaby, B.C., (three stars)
RB P.K. Kier, 5-11, 200 pounds, Winchester, Va. (three stars)
DE John Kirven, 6-5, 260 pounds, Raleigh, N.C. (three stars)
OL Ryan Nelson, 6-5, 280 pounds, Buena Park, Calif. (three stars)
RB Jamari Peacock, 6-0, 245 pounds, Yulee, Fla. (three stars) *
WR Darnell Pratt, 6-3, 170 pounds, Ellicott City, Md. (two stars)
WR Shawn Smith, 5-11, 175 pounds, Brunswick, Ga. (three stars)
LB Charles Snowden, 6-7, 200 pounds, Silver Spring, Md. (two stars)
QB Lindell Stone, 6-2, 205 pounds, Dallas (three stars)
OL Ryan Swoboda, 6-10, 270 pounds, Windermere, Fla. (three stars)
OL Gerrik Vollmer, 6-5, 280 pounds, Hamburg, Germany (two stars)
LB Zane Zandier, 6-3, 205 pounds, Pittsburgh (three stars)
* early enrollees
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