By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Watching the Military Bowl on TV last week, Ricky Brumfield saw University of Virginia sophomore Joe Reed return the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.

“That excited me a whole lot,” Brumfield said Tuesday by phone from San Antonio, Texas.

Reed, who also returned a kickoff for a TD in a Nov. 4 win over Georgia Tech, will be back for the Cavaliers next season, as will punter Lester Coleman, a second-team All-ACC selection in 2017.

“I’m loving it, trust me,” said Brumfield, who starts work next week as Virginia’s special teams coordinator.

But the Wahoos, who finished 6-7 in 2017 after losing to Navy to Military Bowl, have weaknesses to address in other phases of special teams, most notably place-kicking. It will be Brumfield’s job to lead that effort.

“Obviously, my goal is to try to limit as many mistakes as possible and have very few, if any,” he said, “and to continue to build on what they’ve already put in place.”

Starting next week, Football Bowl Subdivision teams will be allowed to have 10 on-field assistant coaches, up from nine, and Brumfield is the newest addition to head coach Bronco Mendenhall‘s staff. Kelly Poppinga, who coaches the Cavaliers’ outside linebackers, also held the title of special teams coordinator the past two seasons.

“I’m very excited and look forward to being there and working with [Mendenhall],” said Brumfield, who was special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at the University of Texas at San Antonio, another FBS program, in 2016 and 2017.

“I look forward to all of the challenges as well. I know it’s going to be a great build-up from this past season. Obviously, they went to a bowl for the first time since 2011, and I just want to help build on that.”

Brumfield is headed to Charlottesville in no small part because of Justin Anderson, UVA’s director of player personnel. They coached together for two years at Nicholls State in Louisiana.

“My experience with him was, he was a really good coach,” Anderson recalled Tuesday in his McCue Center office. “We built a pretty strong relationship, and our families built a strong relationship.”

Brumfield left for Western Kentucky after the 2012 season, but he and Anderson stayed in contact. Anderson came to UVA from BYU with Mendenhall after the 2015 season.

“There’s a few friends that I’ve coached with over the years where you’d say, `Man, I’d love to coach with that guy again,’ ” Anderson said. “Ricky is one of those guys, and when this opportunity came up, I let Coach know, `Hey, I’ve got a really good special teams coach that you can consider.’ ”

Brumfield “has a passion for it,” Anderson said. “He’s a good position coach as well. He can probably help in some other capacity if Coach needs him to.”

A native of New Orleans, Brumfield didn’t hesitate when Anderson told him Mendenhall might be looking to hire a full-time special teams coordinator.

“[Anderson] asked if I was interested, and I said, `Yes, sir!’ ” Brumfield recalled.

He interviewed in Charlottesville during the lead-up to the Military Bowl and watched the `Hoos practice.

“In all of my years of coaching, I’ve seen a lot of practices, and I was really impressed,” Brumfield said. “It was crisp. Everyone knew where they were going. It was efficient.”

He hadn’t met Mendenhall before the interview, but “I’ve known some coaches that know him that I look up to,” Brumfield said. “They know him really well, and they had nothing but great things to say about him. He’s very detailed, he’s very organized and he’s also obviously a great football coach as well as a great human being and a great husband and a great family man.

“Those were the things that intrigued me and made me want to be a part of this staff.”

After graduating from Archbishop Shaw High School in New Orleans, Brumfield played wide receiver at Utah State, where his offensive coordinator was Bobby Petrino and his position coach was Petrino’s brother, Paul.

Brumfield met his wife, Erin, at Utah State. After playing a year of indoor football, Brumfield began his coaching career at Union College in New York, where he and Erin earned their master’s degrees.

From Union, he moved to Division II Fairmont State in West Virginia, where, as he had at Union, Brumfield coordinated special teams and coached wide receivers. What really accelerated his development as a special teams coach, though, were the summer internships he served with NFL teams: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Buffalo and Green Bay.

Through the time he spent with mentors such as veteran NFL special teams coordinators Jerry Rosburg and Tom McMahon, “it kind of went to another level as far as coaching special teams and the passion for it,” Brumfield said. “A lot of what I do is from when I was with those guys, doing those internships and different things, and then evolving throughout the years.”

The importance of special teams was highlighted again on New Year’s Day, when Georgia blocked a field goal attempt by Oklahoma in the second overtime of Rose Bowl. That play proved decisive for the Bulldogs, who advanced to the national championship game.

“It’s crazy, because some people don’t realize that every play matters,” Brumfield said. “Every single play matters, every detail matters.

“A lot of people don’t see that until the end of the Georgia game, when they see the blocked field goal. But they don’t see it on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday when we’re practicing, and that’s what I tell the kids. At the end of games, a lot of kids say, `I hate to lose,’ and I’m like, `Did you hate to lose on Wednesday, when we were practicing and you didn’t go full speed?’ Those plays are important.”

Among ACC teams, Virginia headed into the bowl season ranked No. 1 in kickoff returns (27.2-yard average). But the `Hoos were 10th in kickoff coverage and 14th in punt returns (4.8-yard average).

On field goals, the Cavaliers were 8 for 11 heading into the bowls, and their conversion rate of 72.7 percent ranked seventh in the ACC. But in two seasons under Mendenhall, the `Hoos have not made a field goal longer than 38 yards.

In 2017, true freshman A.J. Mejia was 0 for 4 on attempts of 41 yards or longer.

The Cavaliers’ incoming recruits include Hunter Pearson, a heralded kicker from South Carolina who’s expected to compete in training camp for the starting job.

“The crazy thing about kickers is, you never know the mental part of the kickers till you get `em on campus,” Brumfield said. “Now you’re kicking in front of 40,000 people, 50,000 people and more. Can you handle that pressure?

“The thing we have to do in training camp is put [the kickers] under as much pressure as possible.”

The Lou Groza Award is presented annually to the nation’s top place-kicker. At Western Kentucky and again at UTSA, Brumfield coached a Groza Award semifinalist. It’s essential that the `Hoos improve in that phase of the game, Brumfield said, “because it is a hindrance if you can’t kick a 40-yard field goal. It does hurt the team.”

He’s not, Brumfield said with a laugh, a “kicker-whisperer or anything like that. You just gotta get the guys involved. I think a lot of times — and this is not just at UVA, this is across the country — a lot of times the kickers aren’t involved in the team aspect of things. [The coaches] just say, `Hey, do field goals,’ and then they send them off to the side and they go kick.

“And they will have to, because they’ve got to perfect their craft, but I think [it’s important to] give them a plan of things to do and continuously talk to them and watch film with them and corral them and show them that they’re part of the team and that we care.”

Anderson, a former BYU wide receiver, coordinators the Cavaliers’ recruiting. He believes the personable Brumfield will relate well not only to UVA players but to recruiting targets.

“The kids will really get along with him,” Anderson said. “He’s a New Orleans-type person. He’s really friendly and kind, and he’s got a lot of energy.”

Anderson noted that Brumfield has experience recruiting several Southern states that are important to the `Hoos.

“He’s recruited Georgia, and that’s an area we’re in and having some success,” Anderson said. “Florida is an area we’re in and having some success, and then Tennessee’s an area we really want to get into, because it’s close. So him having that strong Tennessee tie, I think, was a plus for us. And then knowing that he could recruit New Orleans [was another plus] … I think he’ll be actually a stronger recruiter than maybe people realize, even though he’s not from this area.”

Asked about recruiting, Brumfield said, “I love it. You can be the smartest coach in the world and have the best game plan, but if you don’t have players that can execute and make a play when it’s needed, it doesn’t matter.

“I completely understand the importance of recruiting. I’m full force.”

Brumfield and his wife, who’s from West Virginia, have two sons and two daughters. Their oldest child, Kyan, is a freshman at Colgate University in New York, where he’s a defensive back on the football team.

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