football team huddle

The Mountaineers come together in a huddle during fall practice.

In 2018, three Big 12 teams finished in the top 10 in the nation in team passing yards.

Oklahoma finished fourth in the nation with 4,520 passing yards joined Texas Tech (sixth) and WVU (seventh). The Big 12 was the only conference to have three teams place that high, the SEC and ACC both had two teams in the top 10.

To call the Big 12 a passing league would be an understatement; seven of the 10 teams finished with more than 3,000 passing yards in 2018 with the three aforementioned teams and Oklahoma State (who ranked 11th in the nation) all finishing with upward of 4,000 passing yards.

In order to succeed in the Big 12, teams must be able to both pass the ball and defend the pass. With the announcement of Austin Kendall as starting quarterback, WVU head coach Neal Brown hopes to have the passing part down, but the defending part may still be up in the air.

Veteran players such as redshirt seniors Devan Wade, Keith Washington and Josh Norwood, as well as redshirt junior Hakeem Bailey, bring invaluable experience to the WVU secondary in 2019. However, a lack of depth behind them means that several young players will be needed to bolster the position group.

During a press conference Tuesday, Brown said a number of true freshmen may find playing time in the secondary this season.

“We’re young in the secondary,” Brown said. “There’s going to be upwards of four, maybe five true freshmen playing in the secondary.”

Specifically, Brown mentioned Nicktroy Fortune, Tykee Smith and Kerry Martin Jr. as true freshmen that made big strides over the course of the offseason.

Brown said Fortune could even be pushing for a starting cornerback spot. 

“Nicktroy Fortune is a true freshman at corner that has made some serious moves and is challenging to be a starter at that position,” he said.

Fortune, Smith and Martin are joined by Tacorey Turner and Tae Mayo as highly-rated true freshmen who may see time for the Mountaineers this season.

Fortune comes to WVU by way of Roswell, Georgia. Playing at Central Gwinnett High School, Fortune racked up 50 tackles, four interceptions and five pass breakups as a senior in 2018. He was ranked a three-star recruit and the 76th best prospect in Georgia by ESPN.

Also a Georgia product, Mayo is out of Leesburg where he played at Lee County High School. As a senior Mayo collected 31 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups.

Turner is the final true freshman cornerback who may see time, coming highly rated out of Park Crossing High School in Montgomery, Alabama. Turner was rated a three-star prospect and the 43rd best prospect in Alabama by ESPN, as well as the 106th best cornerback prospect in the nation.

Smith is from Imhotep Charter High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his senior season, Smith totaled 26 tackles and one interception. He too was rated as a three-star prospect by ESPN, as well as the 74th best safety in the nation and 15th best prospect in Pennsylvania. 

The only local product among the group, Martin is from Capital High School in Charleston, West Virginia. Martin played primarily as quarterback his senior season but had 55 tackles, five interceptions and five pass breakups in his prep career. Another ESPN three-star prospect, Smith was rated as the 77th best safety in the nation and the sixth best prospect in West Virginia.

WVU finished 2018 with 15 interceptions, second most in the Big 12, allowing 258.7 passing yards per game. It may come down to these young players for the Mountaineers’ secondary to repeat the success from a year ago.