The Virginia football team announced 19 players signed at the start of the early signing period Wednesday, including Gonzaga linebacker Hunter Stewart, an Alexandria resident who helped the Eagles claim the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title this season.
Stewart is rated a four-star recruit by Rivals and a three-star by 247Sports. He had been the Cavaliers' highest-rated early signee until four-star defensive tackle Jowon Briggs announced his commitment.
Steward selected Virginia over Boston College, Maryland, Missouri, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, among others, citing the school’s demanding academics as well as the resurgence of the football program under third-year Coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Virginia’s class of early signees is rated sixth in the ACC, marking a third straight year of improvement.
“Really pleased with our efforts and results of the 2019 class,” Mendenhall said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “We addressed needs that had to be addressed and met at a high level. I am encouraged and excited.”
Briggs is the centerpiece of the Cavaliers' early signing class and expected to compete for playing time as a freshman following a decorated high school career in Cincinnati. As a senior, Briggs recorded 54 tackles and six sacks on the way to being named first-team all-state in Ohio.
ESPN rated Briggs as the No. 11 defensive tackle in the country, and he was selected to play in January’s Under Armour all-American Game. He also participates in shot put and, according the U-Va. athletics website, squats more than 700 pounds.
“I don’t think it is measurable with anyone else we have recruited,” Mendenhall said of Briggs. “He told us he plays 10 instruments. We watched him in engineering classes and arts. He is U-Va. He can probably walk into any field here and be successful.”
The Cavaliers also added dual-threat quarterback RJ Harvey, who this season accounted for 48 touchdowns. Harvey passed for 1,787 yards and ran for 1,376, drawing comparisons to current Virginia starter Bryce Perkins and former standout Marques Hagans.
Perkins, a junior transfer, accounted for 31 touchdowns this season as well as 3,314 total yards of offense in his first year as a starter for the Cavaliers.
Virginia (7-5) plays in the Belk Bowl against South Carolina on Dec. 30. The Cavaliers are playing in a second straight bowl game for the first time since 2004 and 2005.
“What I would love is a QB in each class, before this class finishes, you will see five QBs on the roster,” Mendenhall said. “We really liked RJ, and he is dynamic like Bryce Perkins, and we think he can be a Marques Hagans type player.”
Virginia 2019 early signees:
Josh Ahern, LB, 6 feet 3, 215 pounds, Burke, Lake Braddock High School.
Nathaniel Beal III, WR, 6-5, 200, Houston, Strake Jesuit College Prep.
Jowon Briggs, DL, 6-2, 286, Cincinnati, Walnut Hills.
Chayce Chalmers, DB, 6-2, 208, Gainesville, Stonewall Jackson.
Antonio Clary, DB, 6-0, 200, Jacksonville, Sandalwood.
Fentrell Cypress, DB, 6-0, 173, Rock Hill, S.C., Northwestern.
Tenyeh Dixon, DB, 6-0, 185, Washington, D.C., H.D. Woodson.
Dorien Goddard, WR, 6-3, 222, Greeneville, Tenn., Greeneville.
RJ Harvey, QB, 5-10,182, Orlando, Edgewater.
Mike Hollins, RB, 5-10, 214, Baton Rouge, University Lab.
Ja’Quay Hubbard, OL, 6-6, 330, Sharpsville, Pa., Sharpsville.
Jonathan Leech, OL, 6-5, 270, Hoschton, Ga. Mill Creek.
Seneca Milledge, RB, 5-6, 170, Fort Myers, Fla. Dunbar.
D’Sean Perry, LB, 6-3, 223, Miami, Gulliver Prep
Ben Smiley, DL, 6-4, 280, Chesapeake, Va., Indian River.
Hunter Stewart, LB, 6-3, 220, Alexandria, Gonzaga.
Zachary Teter, OL, 6-5, 290, Lakeland, Fla., Lake Gibson
Dontayvion Wicks, WR, 6-2, 195, Plaquemine, La., Plaquemine.
Major Williams, DB, 6-0, 176, Fort Myers, Fla., Dunbar.