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Safety position taking shape as spring progresses

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — There was a time when it seemed like West Virginia football fans might take a moment out to go out and purchase a sympathy card for Dontae Wright, whose job title on the Mountaineer coaching staff is assistant coach (safeties).

That was right after it was announced that Tykee Smith, who probably was the best player on the defense, if not the entire team, or maybe even the whole Big 12, was transferring, winding up at Georgia, which should give you some idea of how highly he was thought of nationally.

But Wright didn’t want any sympathy. While others mourned the passing of Smith, Wright knew he had a capable replacement who could step in and fill the void, perhaps even make you come to the end of this season asking “Tykee Who?”

That would be the Arizona transfer Scottie Young, who didn’t gain eligibility to play last year until the Liberty Bowl against Army, when he filled in for Smith, whose absence hinted at what was to come, and was probably the most valuable Mountaineer at the spear position.

What’s more, Wright knew what very few others knew and that was that he still may have been coaching the best position group on the field for the Mountaineers, for he had Alonzo Addae and Sean Mahone starting alongside Young.

And now, as the annual spring game approaches at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Mountaineer Field, he has learned that he has depth to go with that group with the return of Kerry Martin Jr., after opting out of last season for health reasons following his locker room revelations that led to the separation of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and WVU, and the addition of a potential star at the spear position that Smith played last year, that Young will play this year and that will come open next year.

That would be the previously undiscovered freshman Davis Mallinger, who is drawing rave reviews for his work to date in the spring.

You listen to Wright and you wonder just what he has on his hands in Mallinger, a 2020 4A All-State player at Cocoa Beach, Florida.

We will let Wright introduce you now to Mallinger, just to whet your appetite for the spring game, if he can shake off a knee problem that he picked up on last Saturday.

If he isn’t ready to go then, hold your breath until the season begins because Wright is certain you will hear from him.

“I’m excited about his progress because he hasn’t played safety in a long time. He played wideout last year, but he is going to be a great football player,” Wright said.

“I think Davis Mallinger is going to be the one who is going to surprise us on special teams this year,” Wright continued. “On special teams you don’t have to think a lot and as a freshman he’s swimming a little bit but he can run. The kid can flat out run. He’s physical and he’s not afraid of contact.

“He’ll help us in the return game potentially as punt returner and in the kick return. He’ll help us on kickoff and be a gunner on the punt team. He’ll have a big role.”

Of course, Young may hold the key to the secondary for if he lives up to his billing and to the play of his former Arizona teammate who transferred ahead of him, Tony Fields III, he will take the sour taste away from Smith’s transfer.

“The biggest impression this spring has been made by Scottie Young,” Wright said. “He’s had a great spring playing the spear position and is also learning the free safety position. He is a terrific football player, has unbelievable instincts and he’s one of the leaders of our defense.”

That’s such high praise you wonder if he’s learning the free safety position as well as the spear so he can play them both at the same time.

Only kidding, of course, but Young is a special player and last year, being unable to play, was difficult on him but he made the most of it.

“It was the first time in his career that he’s not been a contributor at all,” Wright said. “He’s handled it just like Alonzo Addae did the year before. He’s an older guy and very mature. He understands it’s not his fault at all that he was sitting out, it was because of the rules. No matter what, he knew he had a role.”

That was working and teaching the young players on the scout team with him, a role he accepted gladly.

Right behind Young, you have the aforementioned Martin.

“It took him six or seven practices to knock the rust off fully. The biggest adjustment was the live aspect of it — tackling. When you don’t do it every day it becomes hard to do. He’s gotten back into the flow of things,” Wright said.

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