By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– On Sundays in the fall, Brian Delaney often can be found with camera in hand, taking photographs of the children participating in Run Charlottesville, the nonprofit program created by two of his fellow University of Virginia student-athletes: Maddie Rennyson and Mary Blankemeier.
On Fridays or, more often, Saturdays in the fall, Delaney is the one in action. The 5-10, 200-pound junior from Northern Virginia handles the kicking duties for the UVA football team. Delaney took over on field goals and extra points in Virginia’s sixth game last season, a 16-13 win over the 16th-ranked Miami Hurricanes at Scott Stadium, and hasn’t relinquished the job.
A graduate of Westfield High, which won the 6A state football title at Scott Stadium in 2015, Delaney was 12 for 16 on field goals, with a long of 46 yards, and 25 for 25 on extra points last season. This year he’s 10 for 14 on field goals, with a long of 49 yards, and 18 for 19 on extra points.
Redshirt freshman Lee Dudley is in his first season as the Cavaliers’ long-snapper on extra points and field goals. Redshirt junior Nash Griffin is in his third season as UVA’s holder.
“I’d say the operation is pretty clean,” said Delaney, who beat out Justin Duenkel, a talented true freshman from Northern Virginia, for the starting job during training camp. “The thought process now is, every time we’re on the field it needs to be a make, so any time we leave points out there it’s unacceptable.”
Of Delaney’s 34 kickoffs this season, 25 have been touchbacks. Only six have been returned. One went out of bounds. On the other two, the receiving team called for fair catches.
“I like Brian and I like his progress,” UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday. “He works really, really hard, and I think those numbers are strong. They’re not perfect, but I think they’re strong.”
Delaney would love to punt too. “He wants to do everything,” Mendenhall said. “He’s so competitive.”
That competitive drive, the Cavaliers’ coaches believe, may have contributed to Delaney’s misses this season. Delaney battled Griffin for the starting job at punter during training camp. Griffin has performed well in his first season as Virginia’s No. 1 punter, but until recently Delaney has worked extensively at that position in practice as well.
“I probably should have restrained him a little bit more in the punting,” Mendenhall said, “so he could focus more on kicking off and kicking extra points and field goals, as if that’s not enough. And so I can do a better job managing all of that.”
That means fewer punts in practice for Delaney, however much he might wish otherwise.
“We want to try to save his leg a little bit, being the middle of the season,” special-teams coordinator Ricky Brumfield said. “But he’s a really good punter, too.”
Graduate assistant Andrew Meyer, a former All-Big Ten punter at Wisconsin, works with the Wahoos’ kicking specialists.
“You always get nervous about overuse with a guy doing all three,” Meyer said. “Now, Brian’s capable of doing all that, but it’s one of those thngs where we want to make sure we’re as dialed-in with kickoffs and field goals as we need to be.”
In a key Coastal Division game, Virginia (4-2 overall, 2-1 ACC) hosts Duke (4-2, 2-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium.
The Cavaliers haven’t played at home since Sept. 21, when they rallied for a 28-17 win over Old Dominion. A week later, in a 35-20 loss at then-No. 10 Notre Dame, Delaney made both of his field-goal attempts and flawlessly executed an onside kick that teammate Bryce Hall recovered.
Then came a bye week, after which the Hoos played at ACC rival Miami last Friday night, and Delaney accounted for all of their points in a 17-9 loss. After missing his first field-goal attempt, a 38-yarder that he kicked too low and was blocked, Delaney connected from 25, 21 and 44 yards.
“During the game, whether it’s a miss or a make, you try to get the last kick out of your mind and just focus on the one that is up,” said Delaney, who has a team-high 48 points this season.
A kicker’s mindset, Brumfield said, must be like that of a defensive back. “Have a short memory and move on to the next one. The thing I always tell people is, it’s not about the mistake you make. It’s what you do after the mistake. The first [kick] was a mishit, but he made the next three.”
Delaney’s second field goal hit the right upright and bounced through to cut Miami’s lead to 7-6 early in the fourth quarter.
“Good to see that go in,” Delaney said, smiling. “It was just not the cleanest ball. It still had good power and height behind it, but it was one I could have been a little cleaner on.”
On most days, Delaney said, he visits the athletic training room two or three times to keep his right leg as strong and fresh as possible. His range, he said, is probably 55 to 57 yards in good conditions.
This is Mendenhall’s fourth season at UVA, and early in his tenure even a 45-yard field goal seemed an all-but-unattainable goal. In 2016, the Cavaliers were 5 for 10 on field goals, with a long of 36 yards. In 2017, they were 8 for 12, with a long of 38 yards.
Delaney, who handled kickoffs as a true freshman in 2017, has increased the Cavaliers’ options when drives stall.
He was named the ACC’s specialist of the week on Sept. 3 for his performance in UVA’s season opener. Delaney was 3 for 4 on field goals, connecting from 39, 36 and 45 yards, in visiting Virginia’s 30-14 win over Pittsburgh. That marked the first time since 2015 that a Cavalier had made three field goals of at least 35 yards in a game.
Still, he wasn’t completely satisfied with his kicking at Heinz Field that night, or at Hard Rock Stadium last weekend.
“I’d say any time you leave points out there there’s room for improvement,” Delaney said. “And so when I’ve been able to make kicks I’m happy to help the team, but leaving the field after going 3 for 4, you know there could have been another three points on the board to maybe change the outcome.”
At Westfield High, which in 2016 repeated as 6A state champion, Delaney’s teammates included Jay Aiello, now a UVA wrestler who ranks among the nation’s top 197-pounders.
At UVA, Delaney is majoring in foreign affairs. The topic interests him, and math and science are “not necessarily my strong points,” he said, laughing.
Between his schoolwork and football, Delaney doesn’t have much free time, but he enjoys helping his friends Rennyson and Blankemeier, who are distance runners at Virginia, with their program. Run Charlottesville hosts six sessions each semester for children 4 years old through middle school.
“They asked me to help take pictures for it last year when they got started up, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Delaney said.
When he played at Westfield, his father took photographs of the football team, “so I’ve been around cameras,” Delaney said. “I would borrow my dad’s camera, and every once in a while I’d take pictures at things like our lacrosse games in high school.”
His time spent behind the camera is “a good getaway,” Delaney said. “You’ve got everything going on, and I’m taking pictures, so I can be out of the scene, but I get to see everybody else smiling and interacting.”