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Virginia’s Blanding selected as top Defensive Rookie by ACSMA
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has been voted the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year following a 2014 regular season in which he leads the league in pass efficiency and touchdown passes.
The West Hills, California, native was also honored as the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. In addition to his 25 touchdown passes, he currently ranks second among ACC quarterbacks in passing yards with 2,962 and fifth in total offense with 236.5 yards per game. His ACC-leading pass efficiency rating stands at 148.2.
Kaaya was chosen for the award by 22 of the 55 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA) who cast ballots for postseason football honors. Virginia safety Quin Blanding, who placed second in the overall Rookie of the Year balloting with 16 votes, received the nod as ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Kaaya threw for over 200 yards on eight occasions while leading the Hurricanes to six wins and a spot in a postseason bowl game.
Kaaya’s impressive debut season saw him set the Miami true freshman single-game passing yardage record on two occasions – first with 342 yards against Arkansas State on Sept. 13, then with 359 a week later against Nebraska. Kaaya threw a combined seven touchdown passes in the two games.
“The dedication, sacrifice and discipline that Brad has exhibited since his arrival in May has set a high standard here at the U,” Hurricanes head coach Al Golden said. “Brad is truly deserving of this award. We asked a lot of him this season and he has grown immensely as a person, player and leader throughout the season.”
Kaaya’s ensuing performances proved Golden’s assessment to be quite accurate. He was voted the ACC Rookie of the Week on Oct. 13 after finishing 17-for-24 for 286 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a win over Cincinnati. His 25 touchdown passes tie Ken Dorsey and Bernie Kosar for the fourth-most touchdown passes in a single season at Miami. His 2,962 yards passing are the fourth-best by a freshman in ACC history, trailing only Florida State’s Jameis Winston (4,057 in 2013), FSU’s Drew Weatherford (3,208 in 2005) and NC State’s Philip Rivers (3,054 in 2000).
Kaaya finished the regular season ranked in the top 20 of four national statistical categories and was the only true freshman quarterback in the country to throw for 2,900 pass yards and 25 or more touchdowns.
Virginia’s Blanding made an immediate impact in his initial college season, placing second among ACC tacklers and leading all freshmen nationally in tackles per game. Blanding’s 10.3 tackles per contest rank 17th overall nationally, and his 123 total tackles rank 12th .
Nearly half of Blanding’s 123 total tackles (60) were solo stops. The 6-4, 215-pound Virginia Beach, Virginia, native also made his presence felt as a coverage defender, intercepting three passes and breaking up six. He recorded a quarterback sack and had 2.5 total tackles for lost yardage.
“Quin had an exceptional first year at Virginia, but that did not surprise us because of the total commitment he made since the first day he arrived last summer,” Virginia head coach Mike London said. “Quin comes early and stays late. He loves to learn, and you can tell that because he is a great listener.
“He has been a joy to coach. As good as he was this year, he’ll be the first one to tell you he has room to improve and get better. He is very humble and demonstrates great respect for the game of football.”
One of two freshmen in the nation to lead his team in tackles and the only one with 80 or more tackles, Blanding was the first Virginia true freshman to start a season opener at one of the two safety positions since Tony Blount did so in 1976. Blanding emerged as the Cavaliers’ leading tackler in seven games and played a key role on a defensive unit that that ranks No. 21 nationally against the rush (120.7 yards per game).
Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson (seven votes) placed third behind Kaaya and Blanding in the overall ACC Rookie of the Year voting. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook (four votes) placed fourth. Boston College running back Jon Hilliman was the choice of two voters. Georgia Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman, Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander, Clemson wide receiver Artavis Scott and Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne received one vote each.
In the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, Kaaya led with 33 votes. Watson placed second with 10, followed by Cook (5), Scott (4), Hilliman (2) and Serigne (1).
Blanding was the choice of 37 voters for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Clemson’s Alexander placed second with 10 votes, and Georgia Tech’s Freeman had seven. NC State linebacker Jerod Fernandez received one vote.