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Top Tackler Wins ‘Academic Heisman’

Ben Solomon

Once an accomplished swimmer, a young Micah Kiser (Col ’17, Educ ’24) ultimately had to explain to his coach why he was giving up the sport.

“I just like hitting people,” Kiser recalls saying.

As Virginia’s middle linebacker the past three seasons, Kiser hit frequently enough to become one of the most celebrated defensive players in school and Atlantic Coast Conference history.

His biggest hit, however, came late last season when he won the William V. Campbell Trophy, the “Academic Heisman” of college football.

The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame annually awards a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship to the player it votes the nation’s top football scholar-athlete. Criteria include outstanding athletic ability, a GPA of at least 3.2, and strong leadership and citizenship.

Kiser, who was one of 13 finalists for the award, is a graduate student in the Curry School of Education; last year he earned his bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs.

“If you were to choose an award that represents what we’re trying to accomplish at UVA, the Campbell Trophy would be it,” head football coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I can say to any player on our team, ‘Be like Micah.’ ”

Kiser was the Cavaliers’ leader in every way. Fourth all-time in tackles at UVA, Kiser is just the second player to lead the ACC in that category for three consecutive years. The other is Luke Kuechly, a star in the NFL, which Kiser says is his intended destination, too.

Kiser also garnered praise in August when he organized a team photograph at the Rotunda with the Cavaliers locked in arms in response to the violent white supremacist rallies on Grounds and in Charlottesville.

After a season in which he earned first-team All-American honors from the Sporting News, Kiser left school before the spring semester to train full time for the professional draft in April. But Kiser said he plans to complete his master’s degree in higher education and pursue an MBA, with the goal of a post-NFL career as a college athletics director.

“Being involved with athletes has always been my calling,” he says. “And as an A.D., you have the ability to create programs and opportunities to help athletes off the field. I think college athletics comes up short in developing student-athletes after they graduate, specifically football and basketball players. That piques my interest.”

Raised in a suburb of Baltimore, Kiser was a multisport athlete at Gilman School. He didn’t become a starter until his redshirt sophomore season. And yet he now is the second Virginia player to win the Campbell Trophy—Thomas Burns (Engr ’95, ’99) was honored in 1993.

“My goal was to get on the media poster with the season schedule on it,” Kiser says with a laugh. (He did.) “To be used as an example is really humbling and gratifying. I wear that proudly, because I know I’ve put in a lot of work.”