In an effort to reduce kickoff returns, which have been found to be disproportionately responsible for major injuries, college football implemented a fair catch rule in 2018. Because of that, a player can call for a fair catch inside his own 25-yard line and the team will start at the 25 — essentially a touchback. That was the plan in the Virginia vs. Georgia Tech game on Thursday night.
Unfortunately, sometimes wires get crossed. Forever in the game of football, the way to get a touchback was to catch the kickoff in the endzone and then kneel down. Virginia kick returner Demick Starling caught a kickoff at his own three-yard line and proceeded to kneel. That is … not ideal.
You can see his teammate, Perris Jones, waving at him as if to say, “Fair catch, not kneel my dude.”
But the damage had been done. The ball would be spotted at the three-yard line for UVA to start their next possession. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, this came just before halftime and they simply … well, knelt down again to send it to the half.
We don’t want to pile on the young man, but Starling is a junior. He should absolutely know the rules, especially since he’s back there returning kicks in the first place. But, this is a mistake you probably only make once.
Next time, expect to see Starling’s right hand high in the air, properly signaling a fair catch.