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By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– He wasn’t at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, but Lester Coleman watched Virginia’s season opener on the new ACC Network. He paid special attention, naturally, to the Cavaliers’ No. 81, Nash Griffin.
“I thought he went in there and showed poise, and he was consistent,” Coleman said Wednesday morning. “I thought he had an awesome game.”
Coleman punted for UVA in 2017, when he was named to the All-ACC second team, and again last season. His successor in that role is Griffin, a redshirt junior from Indianapolis whom head coach Bronco Mendenhall put on scholarship last month.
Griffin is in his third season as the Wahoos’ holder on extra points and field goals. Until Saturday night, however, he’d never punted in a college game.
He felt some nerves during warmups, Griffin acknowledged Wednesday, “but once I got out there, I knew what I needed to do, and it all worked out. It felt good to get that first one off.”
His first punt traveled 41 yards and wasn’t returned. For the game, which Virginia won 30-14, Griffin averaged 45.5 yards on his four punts.
“I was impressed with what he did in the opener,” Mendenhall said Monday.
So was Andrew Meyer, the graduate assistant who works with Virginia’s punters and kickers.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Meyer, who was an All-Big Ten punter at Wisconsin. “Nash has worked really hard the last two, three years. I’ve definitely seen him continue to progress, and that’s what we talk about all the time: continuous growth.”
Griffin has improved on both traditional and rugby-style punts, Meyer said, and “then his consistency has also gone up. We gave him a lot of pressure looks during camp, too, and he handled it well, so I think that prepared him for the game.”
It helped, said Griffin, one of the better athletes on the team, that he took the field in Pittsburgh with extensive game experience as a holder.
“That really helped set the stage,” he said, “so [the first punt] was just another kick, or that’s how I treated it at least.”
Virginia’s long-snapper on punts is true freshman Enzo Anthony, a walk-on from Florida. (Redshirt freshman Lee Dudley, a Woodberry Forest graduate, snaps on extra points and field goals.)
One of Griffin’s kicks was supposed to be a pooch punt, but it sailed 49 yards into the end zone for a touchback. Of the other three, Pitt returned only one, and UVA’s Nick Grant hammered Maurice Ffrench for no gain.
“I thought for a bunch of new guys to be in there, it was pretty clean for the most part,” Meyer said.
Griffin said: “It definitely was a long time coming. I felt like we had prepared well, and it showed on the field. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Coleman, who’s now in a master’s program in UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, remembers his first punt as a Cavalier. It was a 40-yarder against William & Mary at Scott Stadium in the 2017 season opener.
“I thought the first one was nerve-wracking,” Coleman said. “We punted four times in my first game, and I thought it got subsequently easier after that. You kind of get the pregame jitters over with the first one, and then muscle memory takes over.”
UVA junior Brian Delaney was 3 for 4 on field goals in the opener, a performance for which he was named ACC specialist of the week.
“I was really pleased with both [Delaney and Griffin],” Meyer said, “but at the same time we’ve got to strive to be perfect every day and perform at the highest level we can.”
Griffin is in his final year in Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. After the opener, he received a congratulatory shout-out on Twitter from his buddy Kyle Guy, the former UVA basketball star who’s now a rookie with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
Also, shoutout my brotha @nash_griffin !!! Hell of a first game 🤙🏼👏🏼👏🏼
— Kyle J Guy (@kylejguy5) September 1, 2019
In Indianapolis, Griffin and Guy were classmates and basketball teammates, first at Belzer Middle and then at Lawrence Central High. In Charlottesville, they lived together in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and Griffin flew to Minneapolis on April 8 and saw the Hoos win the NCAA basketball title there that night.
Guy didn’t play football in high school, but he’s a huge fan of the sport and of Griffin.
“He’s pretty pumped to be coming back for the Florida State game [on Sept. 14],” Griffin said.
UVA plays its home opener Friday at 8 p.m. against William & Mary, also 1-0, at Scott Stadium.