MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University football team has two cornerbacks who have seen plenty of playing time in the past going into the 2019 season, but behind them the Mountaineers are a bit thin when it comes to experience.
Despite that, WVU cornerbacks coach Jahmile Addae thinks he has a group of players who can turn some heads when the spotlight shines their way.
The top two spots on the West Virginia depth chart at cornerback are occupied by seniors Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey. That duo has appeared in a total of 35 games for the Mountaineers, including 17 starts, and will be depended upon to guide a group of younger corners preparing for their first taste of action in the pass-happy Big 12 Conference.
"There is always a heightened sense of urgency for seniors," Addae said. "No matter where I've coached, no matter what position I've coached, they show up with a different edge than maybe everyone else.
"My challenge to (Washington) and Bailey was to understand that the younger guys, although you see them as friends, they see you as mentors. They follow you and emulate everything you do. They want to dress like you, they want to talk like you and they want to act like you, and that's a big responsibility, but one that you kind of have to take on."
The WVU corners lost Josh Norwood, a starter at times last season, due to a position switch to safety during the offseason. That leaves Washington, Bailey, redshirt freshman Malachi Ruffin and redshirt senior Devan Wade, who sat out in 2017 and did not see any playing time, as the only cornerbacks that were in the program prior to this season.
West Virginia does, however, have plenty of players listed at cornerback on the roster who now have the opportunity to step up and earn their place. WVU brought in freshmen Nicktroy Fortune, Tae Mayo, Naim Muhammad and Tacorey Tuner in first-year head coach Neal Brown's inaugural recruiting class. The Mountaineers also got a boost by landing New Hampshire transfer Alonzo Addae, who is the little cousin of Jahmile Addae.
"Really, I think all of the younger guys we brought in have a chance in due time to be pretty good football players," the elder Addae said. "Nicktroy has come in and learned the system. He's got good size and has got all the physical tools he really needs, it's just about getting comfortable and making it second nature and being able to play proactively as opposed to reactivity. That's really the key for all freshmen.
"Tae Mayo has had a really good camp as well. He's gained some weight and has been really working on the fine technical aspects of (playing cornerback).
"Tacorey Turner is a guy who got here late, and he's working to learn the system. The kid is 6-2 and 200 pounds as a corner and can move, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel there. Even Alonzo Addae, who is my cousin, is a transfer who played some meaningful football at another program. He's done well in spots. It's a solid group and a really good group to grow and build off of."
Jahmile Addae said coaching his younger cousin was something he had never really considered prior to this season. He told his wife he didn't know if he ever wanted to coach his two sons because he didn't want to be too hard or them or for it to seem like he gave them special treatment. He had the same concerns about coaching his cousin, but those have since faded.
"I've had to draw some things back to make sure I'm fair and not going after him more than I am anyone else," Jahmile Addae said. "He's done a heck of a job. He's put his head down and worked and made it really easy for me to bring him in and allow him to flourish.
"I didn't necessarily think it was going to be hard to coach him, I just wasn't sure because I had never coached a family member. He was probably closer to my two younger brothers because I was a lot older than all of them. The last three years he has always went out and trained with (Houston Texans safety) Jahleel (Addae), who is still playing NFL ball. So those guys, they are a little bit tighter, but for me and him it's more of an uncle and nephew type relationship as opposed to a cousin relationship. That probably makes it a little easier."
As for where the depth chart stands at cornerback behind Washington and Bailey, progress is being made but decisions have not - not yet, at least.
"I probably won't know pecking order until Day 15, and we're still installing defenses," Jahmile Addae said. "They haven't played every technique they're going to play, so it's hard to say a pecking order right now, but pecking order is coming soon, I can promise you that. We're sorting it out daily and a few of these guys are making it hard."