By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
You approach Brian Mitchell, West Virginia University’s cornerback coach, just before he’s ready to leave Tuesday’s interviews, and you figure he’s just about talked out.
Like he’s coming off a game in which the opponent scored 73 points, and while most of the damage was done on the ground, the opening touchdown had come via a blown coverage from one his protégés on the first Baylor offensive play of the game, setting the mood for what would come.
But as you approach, your topic has nothing to do with that onslaught or the challenge that awaits from yet another undefeated, nationally ranked pass-happy team in Texas Tech at noon on Saturday in Milan Puskar Stadium.
Instead, you want to hear about Mitchell’s young freshman phenom Daryl Worley, and suddenly a smile crosses the coach’s face and he begins as he always does talking of Worley …
“Oh, man,” he says.
Worley has had that “Oh, man” effect on the coach and the West Virginia defense, not only on the field but in the way he approaches life.
“He’s a young man who has gotten better each and every day. He’s a gym rat; he tries to excel and be the champion at everything he does. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the classroom or in the weight room. He prepares very well,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell was a late addition to Dana Holgorsen’s coaching staff, joining just in time to get in on the end of Worley’s recruitment, and he was amazed at what he found.
“When I saw him in person he was everything I was hoping he would be, but his personality … it just, it was one of those, ‘Boy, is this kid real? He has this much wisdom? This kid has this much poise, this much character? And he’s a freshman?” Mitchell said.
“The more I talked to him, the more you saw how conscientious he was about the details. It’s like I left and he says. ‘Coach, get home OK.’ He was checking on me. It was mind-boggling,” Mitchell continued.
Mitchell, as a college football coach and recruiter, spends a lot of time with 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids. and, to be honest, most of them are the same. They have been star athletes, often privileged in their schools, idolized by classmates, local heroes.
Because of that they are mostly about themselves, caught up in being a football hero.
You don’t hear much, “Coach, get home OK” from them.
But Worley is a different breed of animal.
“It has to go back to his mom and dad, back to the environment he was brought up in,” Mitchell said. “He didn’t just get that way when he came here. I’ll be the first to say his mom and dad are great parents. He was blessed to go to a great school at Penn Charter, which academically asked more of him and pushed him in every area of his life.
“He’s a young man who gets it. You could feel the confidence from that young man in the way he carried himself,” Mitchell said.
You note that Daryl Worley sounds too good to be true.
“No,” he answers. “There are kids in the world like that who strive for excellence, at every program. They are not as consumed with the material things of the world. They are consumed with being the best student-athlete, being the best teammate, being the best guy in the weight room.
“He’s a guy I’m sure looks at himself in the mirror and says, ‘Hey, I’m going to be accountable today,’ and that’s what makes him wiser than what his age is.”
Certainly, the WVU coaching staff had to know before the first game what they had, so you ask Mitchell what the conversations were like about figuring out what to do with him
“The first thing you do is try to get your best 11 players on the field. It came to fruition when we got him into camp and you saw the burst; you see the look in his eye; you saw the competitive nature. There was no hesitation in getting him out on the field.”
How could there be any hesitation.
“You’ve got to look at the kid,” Mitchell said. “I was there in the spring. The kid won the 100 (11.14), the 200 (22.01) and the 400 (49.19), ran on the 4x100 and 4x400 relay all in one day. Then he came in first in 100, 200 and 400 at state. This kid can handle it.”
And handle it he has, more than you would ever imagine a freshman would handle.
“The thing we need to look at, if we go back, is that we have played that kid at free safety, at nickel, at dime. We played him at a linebacker position; we played him at field and at boundary cornerback,” Mitchell said, raising a finger for each position and needing a second hand to complete the task.
“He has played six positions,” Mitchell said before it was pointed that now he is also returning kickoffs, which make it seven positions in a season that is only six games old … and he is a true freshman.
“You talk about a kid who is unshakable. He is unshakable,” Mitchell said. “There were some adverse situations there … and he still handled it well.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.