'Hoos relying on true freshmen for depth

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Wednesday is college football's second-ever early signing day, with the Virginia football program expected to add roughly 20 new players.

Last recruiting season, most of UVA's incoming recruits took advantage of the early signing period to join the program in December. UVA signed a total of 20 high school players in its 2018 recruiting class -- plus quarterback Bryce Perkins and offensive lineman Marcus Applefield as transfers, who both started all 12 games for this year's 7-5 Cavaliers.

A year later, 19 of those 20 true freshmen are still on the UVA roster heading into the Belk Bowl, and three appeared in all 12 games for the Wahoos during the regular season. Wide receiver Tavares Kelly had 10 catches for 121 yards, returned 13 punts for 143 yards and had 50 yards on three kickoff returns. Defensive lineman Aaron Faumui started four games, and finished the regular season with seven tackles, including a sack against Louisville. And offensive lineman Bobby Haskins saw time at both tackle positions, as well as on special teams.

Those three are among the dozen true freshmen who appeared in games for UVA in Bronco Mendenhall's third season. Of those 12, eight played in at least five games -- meaning they're no longer for a redshirt year in 2018, according to the NCAA's new redshirt rule initiated this season. A ninth, kickoff returner Perris Jones, played in four games -- meaning he'd lose his redshirt eligibility for this season by appearing in next week's Belk Bowl.

Mendenhall had advocated for that new redshirt rule before it took place this season. But he admits that saving those redshirts is still a challenge with a program like UVA, which is still being rebuilt.

"This is a short-term application of a long-term strategy," Mendenhall said. "So you try to have this idea of building and growing and developing your program, and trying to stack classes if possible. And then there's immediate need of injury and, 'Okay, who else do we have.' You have to make both work the best you can."

Receivers Ugo Obasi (10 games) and Billy Kemp (seven games), linebacker Noah Taylor (eight games), nose tackle Jordan Redmond (seven games, including four starts) and running back Wayne Taulapapa (seven games) are the other UVA true freshmen who burned their redshirt years this season.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong (three games), kicker Hunter Pearson (two games) and defensive lineman Grant Misch (one game) are still eligible for redshirt seasons, even if they appear in the Cavaliers' bowl game.

Faumui and Redmond are both listed as starters on the depth chart UVA released last week for the Belk Bowl. Haskins (left tackle), Armstrong (quarterback), Kelly (H-back and punt returner), Obasi (wide receiver), Taylor (Sam linebacker), Pearson (kicker) and Jones (kick returner) are also on the Cavaliers' depth chart as backups.

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