Matt Hauswirth, MORGANTOWN -
Experience is a term that can be somewhat overused when previewing any college athletic program. Although it may be worn out, it’s still a term that resonates deeply within any player on the roster that possesses it.
Experience is only obtained through doing – a series of encounters that makes one mentally, physically and spiritually tougher as both an athlete and an individual.
The entire WVU Football program can certainly vouch for having two years of Big XII Conference experience under its belt. But the maturity that comes with it is an immeasurable quality – one that can single-handedly carry a team back to its winning ways.
However, sometimes that quality marinates a bit faster within a specific group of players amongst a team.
That’s where the Mountaineer secondary enters the picture.
“I would say that it’s the strongest it’s been since I’ve been here,” WVU Secondary and Special Teams Coach Joe DeForest said. “I think it’s improved because of the experience. Like I said, two years ago they were freshmen doing it. Now they’ve matured. So I think experience is going to help us in the long run.”
The West Virginia secondary is led by hard-hitting junior free safety Karl Joseph, who has been highlighted several times on national television when making an eye-popping hit or pulling down an interception. Joseph was among the nation’s leaders in fumble recoveries with four in 2013.
K.J. Dillon is another junior safety who starts alongside Joseph, and is known as more of an overall athlete. Dillon led the team with six pass breakups in 2013, to go with 28 tackles.
“Well me and Karl [Joseph] – we’ve tried to emerge as leaders in the secondary,” Dillon said. “I feel as though we can have a very special secondary this year in the Big XII, and also in the nation. So we just try to lead those guys. With me, I just try to play my role and just try to do my things, and the guys just fall in and do what they’ve got to do.”
WVU Football Head Coach Dana Holgorsen mentioned during a recent Coaches Caravan event that Dillon may be the best athlete the Mountaineers have to offer this year.
And then there is Daryl Worley.
“If anything I’ve been trying to perfect myself – be the best player I can be. I know if I am doing my job on the field, then I know that will help my team the best way possible,” Worley replied.
Daryl Worley has a maturation about him that carries well beyond his years. The sophomore cornerback from Philadelphia has become not only a lockup corner, but also a leader inside the locker room over the span of a year.
He discussed his relationship with his teammates, specifically in the secondary.
“Well Karl [Joseph] was actually my recruiter when I came in,” Worley added. “So I’ve always looked up to him like a big brother and he’s always had his head on straight. So I’ve been trying to follow in his footsteps from him being a freshman All-American to all the steps he has taken in his career.”
Worley will be joined on the field by a variety of other cornerbacks that have all seen plenty of time over the last few seasons. Senior’s Ishmael Banks and Travis Bell, junior's Terrell Chestnut and Ricky Rumph, and sophomore Nana Kyeremeh will all play major roles in the secondary.
As the WVU secondary, along with Mountaineer fans, have recently found out, the passing attacks throughout the Big XII Conference are no joke. Actually, they seem like a joke – only capable of putting up those types of numbers in a fantasy world.
The only problem with that is that it’s been happening in a very realistic world. Baylor led the nation in total offense last year, averaging north of 618 yards per game. Not to mention, two other Big XII teams joined Baylor in the nation’s top 50 total offenses – Texas Tech (11th) and Oklahoma (49th).
After witnessing the damage those teams can do first-hand last year, Worley is convinced this year’s secondary better understands the task at hand.
“If one thing – you need to prepare more than anything,” he said. “When you’re out there, just stay calm – know what your job is and worry about your job. Everything is moving so fast and you can only worry about what you have to do. If you know what you have to do then you’ll be in the right spots.”
“With the experience under my belt now, I feel a lot more relaxed and know what’s coming. I can make my reads faster and be able to make plays better,” Worley added.
Making plays is the name of the game. The West Virginia secondary was doing little of that two years ago, widely considered as one of the worst in Division-I FBS College Football in 2012.
Now two years later, the secondary has grown up in such a way that those young players are now considered veterans. They’re planning on putting the past behind them, and writing a new script for the future.
“I think that’s the main reason that we have a pep in our step because we feel as though we have so much to prove as a team,” Dillon proclaimed. “We came so far together through this last spring and so far this summer. So I think it’s not just because we play Alabama in this first game, but just because we have so much to prove to this city and this state, and most importantly this nation.”
Experience can be a determining factor in the turnaround of any program. However the maturation process that is forced upon players during a rough experience can provide a reason to improve.
Although the WVU secondary features talent across the board, nothing is given. In another difficult Big XII Conference, the Mountaineers will rely on experience to make sure last year’s losses turn into wins – no matter the amount of hype surrounding either side of the ball.