From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.
Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Today's athletes: Malcolm Brogdon and Quin Blanding.
Malcolm Brogdon - Men's basketball - Guard
-- ACC regular season champion
-- First-team all-ACC (coaches and media)
-- All-ACC defensive team (coaches and media)
-- ACC Defensive Co-Player of the Year (coaches)
-- USBWA second-team all-American and first-team all-district
-- NABC second-team all-American and first-team all-district
-- VaSID first team all-state
-- WINA Award as UVA's top male athlete
-- Allstate NABC Good Works Team
The basketball team did something this year that no other team has ever done: bring back-to-back ACC regular season titles outside the state of North Carolina. Virginia basketball is arriving on the map the same way Virginia baseball did about six years ago.
The steady leadership hand of Malcolm Brogdon has a hell of a lot to do with it. Obviously. Brogdon is a perfect fit for Tony Bennett's style of ball: a level-headed demeanor that belies a bulldog mentality. For a guard, he's freakish big and strong, and for a freakish big and strong guard, he's incredibly difficult to shake when defending on the ball. Aided, I'm sure, by his game-sealing steal against Wake Forest, Brogdon hauled down defensive accolades as quickly as he hauled down regular ones. The coaches and media all agreed, he was one of the top five players in the ACC and top ten in the country, and the ACC coaches made him DPOY along with Syracuse's excellent big man Rakeem Christmas.
That's Tonyball, alright. Here's another Tony Bennett staple, this from the official site brag articles:
"During his four years at Virginia, Brogdon has volunteered as a reader and mentor to fifth grade students at Broadus Elementary School in Charlottesville and served as a mentor at the Charlottesville Boys and Girls Club.
Brogdon, who is a dual-degree student in the Accelerated Bachelor/MPP Program in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at UVa, has made two separate mission trips to South Africa and Malawi, and Ghana.
In addition, Brogdon served as a mentor in both the W.E.B. DuBois Society and Norcross Elementary school in Georgia, and was also a counselor at the East Lake YMCA summer camp in his hometown of Atlanta."
That's how you get on the Good Works team, which is populated by only five D-I players out of approximately four thousand. Who else combines being one of the top ten players in the country with being one of the top five awesome basketball people in the country? Nobody, obviously. That kind of rare combination is why being a UVA fan is so much fun these days.
Quin Blanding - Football - Free safety
-- Actually won some games
-- Second-team all-ACC (coaches and media)
-- ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year (coaches and media)
-- Scout.com National Defensive Freshman of the Year
-- FWAA, ESPN, Scout, and 247Sports freshman all-American
-- Team tackles and interceptions leader
To put it a bit mildly, not everything in the Mike London era has gone as planned. Most of his big-time recruits have gotten slow starts before rounding into form, or simply not panned out at all. Quin Blanding is the very explosive exception to the rule.
Blanding was a superstar recruit, one of (if not the) top high school safeties in the country. But free safety is a tough place for a freshman - it's the last line of defense and requires split second decisions that often mean touchdowns if you guess wrong. Hardly mattered: Blanding blew past even the most unreasonable expectations.
Wearing #3 - a tall order, as the number is closely associated with a beloved near-legend in Anthony Poindexter - Blanding stood out even on a defense loaded with talent. Most of the time when a safety leads the team in tackles, that's a bad sign, but the defense in front of Blanding was loaded with extremely smart veterans and some physical freaks, and was legitimately good in nearly all aspects. And still the tackles competition wasn't even close, as Blanding finished 15 ahead of senior safety Anthony Harris.
The people who notice these things, noticed. Blanding was a runaway choice as FDPOY, as the only freshman to make any kind of all-ACC team, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, and 48 votes ahead of the next-highest freshman in the voting. He was on every freshman all-America team you can think of. And of course (though I shouldn't mention it because technically these are 2015-16 accomplishments) he's on every award watch list and preseason all-whatever team in the football universe. Singlehandedly bringing cachet and respectability to the football program is a pretty titanic accomplishment.