Virginia looks to wideout Dontayvion Wicks to have breakout season in 2021
Dontayvion Wicks isn’t a secret among his Virginia teammates, who have known since he first stepped foot on Grounds that he is going to be something special.
Problem has been: health.
A foot injury ended Wicks’s 2020 season in training camp just as he was about to get a featured role in the UVA offense.
The 6’1”, 210-pound speedster from Plaquemine, La., finally got his chance to be featured, in last week’s UVA spring game, or what passed for a spring game for a program in which the head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, isn’t keen on such things.
You did get several drives with the first-team offense going against a mix of players on the defense two-deep and guys that Mendenhall and co-defensive coordinators Nick Howell and Kelly Poppinga wanted to get looks at as possible depth guys.
“One of our primary focuses today was just to ensure that (Wicks) got enough volume to continue to emerge, knowing that Lavel had the entire season last year, so we’re working to catch up Dontayvion as fast as we can,” Mendenhall said. “He’s an essential part, not just an optional part, for our offense and for our receiving corps.
Wicks, in a series of targets, a mix of fly patterns, deep and intermediate slants, sideline routes, showed why his teammates have been eagerly awaiting getting him on the field.
“Bryce Perkins was the quarterback here when he first got here, and we always knew he was special,” said starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who was Perkins’ understudy in 2018 and 2019 before taking over the QB1 job last summer.
Wicks, as a true freshman in 2019, only got 42 snaps in seven games, buried on the depth chart behind veterans Hasise Dubois, Terrell Jana, Joe Reed and Billy Kemp IV.
Wicks got a total of eight targets, and had a modest three catches for 61 yards.
With Reed and Dubois graduating in the spring of 2020, it was expected that he would complement Kemp and Jana alongside true freshman Lavel Davis Jr., another burner, before the injury.
“Now it’s just him getting on the field, and we can keep continuing building our chemistry,” Armstrong said. “I mean, obviously, today, if anybody saw the spring game, you know, he made a lot of good plays down the field, and that’s exactly what we want.
“We both have places to improve and places to still continue to have good chemistry with, but other than that, I mean, you can just see his skill set for itself on the field,” Armstrong said.
Wicks concedes that “rehab was just long and hard, like, just getting up every day and doing the same thing.”
“It gave me a lot of time to think and get back to having to do the same thing over and over. It helped me with consistency. And I got to do extra, even when I’m hurt, off the field,” Wicks said.
Most of all: “It made me realize football is a privilege, that it’s not guaranteed,” Wicks said. “It helped me think about, like, life after football and the things that will happen after football, so it gave me a different perspective of life. That just made me want to work hard at being able to come back and play the game again.”
And now he’s in a position to be able to mentor Davis through his rehab from a torn ACL suffered in spring practice.
Davis already has an idea of what to expect, having endured one ACL surgery and rehab in high school.
“I just try to help him out with just, like, doing stuff to get better, like doing the best and being the best, to do, like, pushups, abs, even when you’re injured, just to make him better for when he comes back,” Wicks said. “What I was, like, rehab is making you stronger, doing something that you can’t do, since you can’t be on the field, it’s helping you get better, like certain abilities.”
Wicks spent the spring building rapport and timing with Armstrong, who still has work to do there – he underthrew Wicks on at least two deep balls on which Wicks had a step on the DB in coverage.
That will come with time over the summer.
Wicks, after the spring game, such as it was, was all smiles, just happy to be back out there competing.
“It’s really fun just being at practice, seeing everybody making plays, like, nobody being selfish, everybody wants to see somebody making plays. Because when somebody is out, we have to have somebody else that can make a play. So it’s fun to see everybody making plays and being dominant,” Wicks said.
Story by Chris Graham