MORGANTOWN — A week or so ago, things were looking really good in West Virginia’s efforts to shore up what has been a leaky secondary over the past two years.
Putting sophomore Daryl Worley at left cornerback after being forced a year ago to move him around gave the Mountaineers one lockdown corner, while they had, on the other side, a battle. That was between Ishmael “Icky” Banks, an experienced cornerback who started all 12 games last year and 16 over two years; redshirt senior Travis Bell, who started nine games last year, and hard-luck redshirt junior Terrell Chestnut, who is coming back from a string of injuries.
But as camp came to a close, Banks disappeared from view without any official explanation from the team, although sources said it’s tied to an academic problem that could keep him out for the entire season.
While his name remains on the roster posted on the team’s website, Banks has not been mentioned in interviews with coaches about who would wind up playing the position when West Virginia takes the field on Saturday, Aug. 30, in Atlanta against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.
Depth was considered a vitally important asset, according to cornerback coach Brian Mitchell, with the three on one side and Worley backed up by sophomore Nana Kyeremeh, on the other side.
“There’s five guys who could go out there and be productive,” Mitchell said. “We’re going 90 to 95 plays a game because of tempo. We’re going to need fresh bodies, especially for the long run, when you’re playing 12 games.
“The body wasn’t designed to go 95 to 100 plays a game. Maybe 60 plays back in the good old days, but now we’re asking more of these kids.”
There is some good news as Jaylon Myers, considered one of the top recruits in the class, got the documentation he needed and enrolled in school on Tuesday and was added to the football roster. He’s a safety/corner from Hutchinson Community College (Kansas), where he was a junior college All-American with eight interceptions last year.
WVU is hoping Myers can fit right in at either position.
Bell is a former safety out of Belle Glade, Fla., who came back from a medical redshirt in 2012 when he blew his shoulder out against Maryland in the season’s third game, costing him the rest of that season.
But Chestnut is really the wild card, for he came to WVU as a four-star recruit out of Pottstown, Pa. He had offers from schools like Temple to Southern California, and all in between. He elected to stay close to home at Pitt but when Dave Wannstedt was fired, he came to WVU.
Great things were expected, with the expectations magnified as WVU went from the Big East to the aerial circus that the Big 12 often is.
Those great things might have come, too, if Chestnut could have stayed healthy … but he hasn’t.
He showed up for his first camp — with Bill Stewart still coaching — fresh off surgery to heal a torn labrum in his shoulder. Chestnut was eager to go.
The labrum wasn’t, with the shoulder going in and out of joint, forcing a second surgery that led to him redshirting that season.
He missed the first seven games of his redshirt freshman year before working his way into the starting cornerback role in three of the final four games of that 2012 season.
The last of those games was the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse.
Chestnut suffered a torn ACL in that game, the surgery being severe enough to keep him out of the first two games of the last year, although he did bounce back to play in the final 10 games, mostly on special teams.
He has taken the setbacks philosophically.
“It’s just the cards I’ve been dealt,” Chestnut said. “I just had to deal with them.
“It’s a part of life. You never know what life is going to throw at you. It told me a lot about myself and how to overcome adversity. I’ve overcome a lot of adverse situations in my life before, but it was never like getting injured over and over again.’’
Chestnut thought back to the morning after the knee surgery.
“I think there was a time when I was laying in a hospital bed after my surgery, that I was questioning whether I was going to play football again or whether I even wanted to put my body through it again,” he said. “You only get one body … and I was 21 years old feeling like I was 50.”
Chestnut kept after it and now is ready to show what everyone believed he could do when he got to Morgantown.
“I’m finally feeling healthy,” Chestnut said. “I’m doing very well. I’m able to take reps with everybody. I’m ready and I’m excited.
“Being away from the game for so long is hard, especially when you’re grinding in the offseason. Being able to play the game is great. It’s the reason I’m here besides going to school, so it’s go time now.“
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel