Joey Blount: Fully healthy, ready to lead Virginia back to the top in 2021
Joey Blount has been at Virginia forever – OK, he’s only actually been on Grounds since 2017. Hard as it is to figure, this is his first spring practice in which he’s been fully healthy.
“I’m going into my fifth year, and I really haven’t done one full spring ball, and people ask questions like, how is that possible, that’s crazy,” said Blount, one of nine super seniors returning for that extra year of eligibility being granted to student-athletes for the COVID-19 year.
Smart kid here – Blount already has his bachelor’s in American studies, which he obtained in three years, and he’s using the extra year to finish work on a master’s in education at the Curry School.
The UVA alums will love to know that it’s not all football with Blount.
“I’m super glad I can be able to experience it one more time, and just do it with my friends and family, my friends and brothers, really, and just be able to see what it’s like going into spring, where the team is going to be, and actually be on the field versus off the field trying to lead. Being on-field leadership is something I’m really happy I can do right now,” Blount said.
The veteran safety has logged 1,742 snaps in four seasons at Virginia, but was only on the field for 260 in 2020, the least since his freshman year back in 2017.
And when he was on the field, he was at his least effective in his four years in Charlottesville – with a career-low 65.0 Pro Football Focus season grade, and a career-worst missed-tackle percentage (19.4).
For frame of reference, in his breakout season, in 2018, Blount, in 520 snaps, had a PFF season grade of 88.0, and a career-best 12.9 missed-tackle percentage.
It wasn’t a given that Blount was going to come back for a fifth year, but like a number of his old guy teammates, the 5-5 finish in 2020 was motivation.
“The memories of us being a first-year, now, like, we’re the old guys on the team, and you know, trying to mentor the guys who are just getting here, like the mid-years that just got here, trying to take them under our wing. The first-years coming in in the summer, just that mentality and just understanding that we’re in a different position as we were a year ago, two years ago, four years ago,” Blount said.
Coming in back in 2017, that class was lured to Virginia by Bronco Mendenhall and his staff pretty much on spec. The first Mendenhall UVA team finished 2-10, one of the losses being a beatdown at home by FCS Richmond in the season opener.
The 2017 team would be the first ‘Hoos team to go bowling in six years. The 2018 group posted the first Virginia bowl victory since 2005.
And then in 2019, it was the first-ever ACC Coastal title and Orange Bowl bid.
2020 was a step back, particularly for the secondary, which ranked last in the ACC in passing yards per game allowed (304.4) and pass efficiency defense (154.4).
“One of the cool things that you look at and you say, OK, especially last year, we’re completely capable. We have guys that are capable of playing in the secondary,” safeties coach Shane Hunter said.
Having Blount on the sidelines for two-thirds of the snaps led to communications breakdowns that should get rectified in 2021 with Blount and fellow super senior De’Vante Cross returning.
Cross, because of injuries in the secondary, had to move over from his natural safety position to fill in at corner, but he will be back at safety alongside Blount this fall.
“What can Joey and De’Vante do to help us get better? The biggest thing is just have their influence out there,” Hunter said. “The communication. I mean, obviously, you’re always going to talk about, hey, you know, stay as deep as deep, work on your tackling, those things. And those are things that we can always work on to get better. But the biggest thing is their ability to communicate and get everybody where they need to be.”
Cross thinks it’s more than leadership with Blount out there on the field.
“He’s a game changer,” Cross said. “He’s an important piece of our defense. He’s our best tackler. He’s almost like damn near our best player. And you know, we need him on the field, we need them to be healthy, and having him in the spring is great. You get to work with him, you get to lock down communication, you get to see how he plays. It’s really about just forming a group. You got to know how each other plays play off each other, so it’s awesome having him and for the team overarching, we need him as a player. He should really change the game.”
Blount is just happy to be out there getting ready for a second go at his senior season.
“As a competitor, I want to be on the field, I want to be making the plays. I just I love football. I love what it brings and who can make you become,” Blount said.
A year spent for the most part on the sidelines has deepened his perspective.
“Being sidelined, watching other people, honestly, taking your opportunities, playing in your positions, and thinking to myself that, man, I could have done that better, maybe, like, I could have made this play, we could have won this game, then realistically, on the other side, like, I guess the whole aspect was, I was just happy to see it in a different perspective, kind of seeing where the team is going to be,” Blount said.
Story by Chris Graham