By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This week is different for West Virginia University, and no one knows it better than Mountaineer cornerback Ishmael Banks.
The challenge comes from Maryland’s passing game in a quarterback named C.J. Brown throwing to the dangerous Stefon Diggs that WVU coach Dana Holgorsen compares to Tavon Austin and Deon Long, a one-time promising WVU recruit.
“They are good and will require us to be at our best,” Banks said.
His familiarity is mostly with Long.
“I went to prep school (Hargrave Military Academy) with Long, so I know more about him,” Banks said. “He runs good routes and has good hands. That’s always a challenge, but I’m sure we’re capable of sticking with him.
“Diggs is a more athletic guy. He can do it all. He makes plays when he gets the ball in his hands. With him we have to make sure we’re around him when he gets the ball.”
And they are going to have to do it while in a state of transition, last year’s starting cornerback Brodrick Jenkins being no longer a member of the team due to “an internal matter,” according to Holgorsen.
Terrell Chestnut, who had a knee injury in the Pinstripe Bowl that required surgery in January, has been promoted to the backup behind Travis Bell at the boundary position.
“We’re excited about Terrell,” Holgorsen said. “He’s been doing a good job. His knee is healing, so we’ve been wanting to get him more involved. We’ll have him in there. Avery Williams is another guy who will be getting some reps this week at corner. Daryl Worley played a good bit last week and he’s got tremendous, tremendous upside as a starting corner here for a long time.
“He does some things out there athletically that I don’t see happening very often,” Holgorsen said. “He’s got loads of potential. He can be an every-down player. It’s only a matter of time, whether it happens this year or next year or whenever.”
Banks against Long, however, is an interesting confrontation.
“We went at it a lot in the semester I was there,” Banks said of his time at Hargrave. “We chatted it up because he was committed here for a while. We talked about that a little bit. We were good friends.”
Long was going to play at WVU, even enrolled, but said he felt out of place socially and began a journey that took him to Hargrave, New Mexico, Iowa Western and finally Maryland.
“He’s bounced around. I’m glad to see he found a home where he’s comfortable. I feel like it will be exciting to play against him because I went against him a lot in practice,” Banks said.
In his own way, Banks has done some bouncing around.
He came to WVU a cornerback out of Hargrave, was moved to safety and then back to corner.
“I was always a corner,” he said. “I got moved when Coach (Joe) DeForest came in. I was always a corner at heart. That’s what I came in as.”
DeForest was the defensive coordinator last year, and whatever he did didn’t work as the defense was the worst in WVU history.
With Banks starting at corner this year, things have measurably improved.
“We have a lot to prove,” he said. “I like to say I got chips on my shoulder. Not just a chip, but chips. If we can play well, we will earn a little respect.”
With that in mind, it seemed appropriate to ask what it takes to be a successful cornerback.
“You have to have a short memory. If you get beat on a play, you have to come back and keep playing,” he noted.
Perhaps the best example of that at WVU was found in Keith Tandy, who came in as a quarterback but turned into a corner and suffered through a number of difficult games before learning how to play the position.
He wound up being drafted and with an NFL career.
“Tandy was always a technician. He did the technique of corner right. The technique Coach (David) Lockwood taught him, he accepted. He made that who he was,” Banks said.
And Banks is now establishing himself at corner, but understands that the best is yet to come.
“I see the best things still to come for me. I see me being one of the best corners West Virginia has ever had,” he said.
And to accomplish that, you have to have experience and learn from each game.
“You have to be tuned in. You have to be able to handle different things on the run,” he said. “You may have to switch up things at any time.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.