Virginia freshman Bryce Hall, coming off a breakout performance in the Cavaliers’ victory at Duke, has plenty of reason to be extra motivated Saturday when UVA plays host to Pittsburgh.
Hall was overlooked by every FBS team in his home state coming out of Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pa. That list, of course, includes Pitt, but the Panthers were hardly alone. Hall was a star wide receiver in high school, racking up more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, yet Virginia was the only FBS school to offer a scholarship.
It all goes to highlight just how unlikely it is for Hall to be starting at cornerback in the ACC as a true freshman. Yet, coming off two interceptions and four tackles in the Cavaliers’ upset at Duke, that’s exactly what he’s become.
The previous Virginia coaching staff recruited Hall and believed he could excel on defense. When Bronco Mendenhall took the Virginia job last winter, he had a decision to make, and assistants on both sides of the ball lobbied for Hall’s services. Ultimately, the Cavaliers lacked depth in the secondary. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Hall had the physicality to fit what Mendenhall wanted to do on defense.
“I love having long, physical and fast corners,” Mendenhall said.
“Because I’m not someone who enjoys free access, free access meaning if you’re playing off and they can just stand up and throw it. But to not allow free access to the receivers, you have to have corners that are capable of pressing.”
Hall has played in all five Virginia games, but was thrown into a bigger role when injuries began to add up in the Cavaliers’ secondary. After a rough start to the season, Virginia still ranks among the worst passing defenses in the ACC statistically, but the emergence of young defensive backs such as Hall and sophomore corner Juan Thornhill clearly led to significant improvements. The Cavs have won two games in a row after losing their first three.
While Hall, for some reason, didn’t impress the coaches at Pitt enough to earn a scholarship offer, he’s been impressing his teammates since first arriving on The Grounds at Virginia, and the more veteran Cavaliers have no problem with the former two-star recruit getting his first start against the Panthers.
“All-out preparation throughout the week, I’ve never been worried about him,” junior All-ACC safety Quin Blanding told Richmond.com.
“I’ve never been worried since he got here. I just know he’s a ballplayer and I know he’s going to make plays. He’s stepped up big for us. He’s long. He has a lot of range to him and that’s really good for a corner that can press and then can play off. I think he has a lot of advantages to the game right now at corner. He has a long way to go, but he’s improving each and every day.”
If that improvement continues at this rapid pace, it bodes well for Virginia as the Cavaliers continue the rebuilding process in a wide-open ACC Coastal Division.