When West Virginia football unveiled their depth chart at Big 12 Media Days, the squad’s secondary may not have necessarily leapt out of the page as there’s been considerable turnover at that position group — but the Mountaineers will still feature two players who thrived in their first seasons at WVU.
Defensive backs Keith Washington and Josh Norwood are coming off breakout seasons in Morgantown, each of which ended with an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. Both transfers were first-year Mountaineers last season, and this season, they have been tasked with leading their fellow defensive backs.
Before we get into discussing this season, let’s back up just a couple of years — before Neal Brown’s hire, before “horns down” was a major topic of discussion, even before Will Grier had started a single game in blue and gold. In 2016, Washington was beginning his freshman year at Michigan, and Norwood was starting his as a cornerback at Ohio State.
They weren’t in that position for long, though, as they would soon enough depart their teams and begin playing at junior colleges for a season. (For what it’s worth, Norwood’s Buckeyes edged the Washington’s Wolverines in 30-27 in Columbus. Norwood made the box score with an assisted tackle).
Soon enough, the former rivals would join forces at West Virginia and become regulars on Mountaineer field. Life can happen pretty fast that way.
“Me and Josh came in together, you know, he went to Ohio State and I went to Michigan,” said Washington. “So, we’ve always been challenging each other.”
Although Washington was a de facto spokesman for the team at Big 12 Media Days, he credits his former rival with being a vocal leader on the defense. This is a title which Norwood reportedly takes seriously despite having to make the move from cornerback to safety.
“He never changed. He kept the same mentality, same attitude,” Washington explained. “He’s just been challenging other players. We challenge each other every day, and I feel like that’s how you’re going to help the team get better and win many games.”
Washington and Norwood may be leaders from the outside looking in, but they’re not the only players with experience in the West Virginia secondary. Hakeem Bailey, another senior transfer product, has put in two seasons for the Mountaineers, playing in 23 contests. You also can’t count out Dante Bonamico and Sean Mahone, both redshirt juniors who have been mostly utilized on special teams so far in their careers.
The rest of the secondary, however, is made up almost entirely of freshmen.
Now that they are at West Virginia, it is clear that the former rivals Norwood and Washington are focused on improving their own Mountaineer team. In a league known for its offense, the Mountaineers could have an uphill battle in forging an identity on the field.
In order to get out ahead of this, Washington says they’ll need to pay attention to the details.
“I just think that we’re gonna play real disciplined and we’re gonna play with a chip on our shoulder. That’s gotta be our identity,” Washington said. “We’re gonna play fearless. We might not be bigger than other teams, we might not have as many athletes on the field, but I feel like we’re gonna compete and we’re gonna know where to be at the right place at the right time.”