CHARLOTTESVILLE — It was well into the 2018 season before Virginia decided to hand over place-kicking responsibilities to Brian Delaney, a sophomore at the time.

All that Delaney had done to that point was kick off, with more than half of his 72 attempts resulting in touchbacks, which is usually the plan.

Throw in field-goal attempts (16) and extra points (25) and that was 113 kicks.

That’s not enough to suit Delaney, a candidate to fill the punting duties handled by Lester Coleman over the past two seasons.

Coleman punted 51 times in 2018, and remember, field goals and extra points were handled by two other specialists — A.J. Mejia and Hunter Pearson — for the first six games.

So, if Delaney were to handle all kicking responsibilities, including punting, that would be approaching 200 kicks of some description.

“When I came here, that was my goal,” said Delaney, a junior from Westfield High School in Chantilly. “It was what I had done in high school. I knew what I was capable of and wanted to compete for all of it.”

He was rated the No. 1 punter in the country by Kohl’s Kicking, which had him as the No. 18 kicker overall.

“He drives the ball farther than anyone in the 2017 class,” Kohl’s wrote in its assessment.

Delaney’s longest field-goal attempt last season was a 51-yarder that was no good against Liberty, but he was 3-for-3 between 40 and 49 yards.

The last Virginia player to lead the team in made field goals and punting in the same season was Chris Gould, who was 11 of 19 on field goals and punted for a 38.4-yard average in 2006.

UVa punters have averaged at least 40 yards in the past seven seasons, and Delaney (5 foot 10, 200 pounds) certainly has that potential.

It is not unprecedented.

Austin Seibert, the Cleveland Browns’ fifth-round draft pick this past spring, broke the Big 12 career scoring record and handled punting duties when he wasn’t kicking field goals or extra points.

“I’ve practiced everything for the past two years, just not at the level needed for the team,” Delaney said. “I had put expectations on myself to perform better. Whenever you don’t meet expectations, it’s not the most fun.”

The turning point may have come last year against then-No. 16 Miami, when Delaney kicked three field goals, including a 46-yarder just before halftime. That was the longest UVa field goal since 2015.

“It was a matter of doing the little things in practice and not giving up hope that the results weren’t coming,” he said.

Not to be overlooked are his towering kickoffs, especially the ones that result in touchbacks.

“Kickoffs are cool,” he said. “No one has an effect on it except you. It’s just you and the ball out there. It’s hard to call kicking a violent motion but it is more of a violent motion going towards the ball and kicking it as far as you can.”

The punting competition includes Nash Griffin, an all-state punter and kicker from Indiana who has served as holder for the past two seasons.

Delaney has been approached about specializing, but nobody has tried to make him stick to one discipline.

Coleman, a Martinsville native who was UVa’s punter the past two seasons before graduating and never had a punt blocked, believes that Delaney has the temperament to deal with the pressure that can accompany the position.

“My thoughts about doing all three are, ‘Yes, I think [Delaney] could,’ ” Coleman said. “He’s very driven [and] very determined. I doubt they’ll let him do all three because so few kids in college do it.

“He should want to do all three, which would give him a better look at the next level. I think it really comes down to how good the kickers are. If Hunter Pearson [or Mejia] can take over the kicking job, I think it’s very reasonable that Delaney punts and kicks off.

“I think he can do two of three. Three of the three is asking a lot.”

Doug Doughty is in his 44th year at the Roanoke Times, having produced an estimated 10,000 by-lines, a majority of them on University of Virginia athletics.

Load comments