Aside from the quarterback position, the group of guys that have been talked about the most this offseason, are the safeties. Mainly due the departures of All-Big 12 First Team safety Kenny Robinson and West Virginia native Derrek Pitts.
Heading into fall camp, the Mountaineers may be expecting some growing pains among the safeties. With 11 on the roster, only six of them have been with the team for more than two seasons, and those may not even be who you see on the field this fall. With four new faces to the program this year, and some talented ones at that, there may be a nice little competition going on throughout the year in the backend of the defense.
Sr. Jovanni Stewart (5’8″ 195 lbs.)
Jovanni Stewart is the only seasoned veteran of the bunch, but the funny thing is, most of his career playing time at WVU has come at the linebacker position. He is the definition of heart over height. Stewart filled in for the depleted linebacker unit last year after so many unfortunate injuries early on. He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 54 and second for tackles for loss with 10.5.
Stewart may be the smallest player on the WVU defense, but he plays much bigger than his frame. With an advanced ability to read plays, thanks to playing linebacker, Stewart is able to cover a lot of ground and make open-field tackles. Picture him as a security blanket on the backend because he does tackle much better than most other safeties across the country.
RS Sr. Josh Norwood (5’10” 180 lbs)
Josh Norwood may have the highest expectations among these guys this season. The cornerback turned safety is a ballhawk and he likes contact. Norwood tallied 64 tackles last year to go along with 11 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Norwood probably never thought that he would be finishing his college career in Morgantown. His journey started in Columbus, then he made a quick stop at Northwest Mississippi CC where he was offered by WVU, which ultimately brought him home.
Fr. Tykee Smith (5’10” 185 lbs.)
Yes, I am bought into Tykee Smith. The true freshman from Philadelphia may just well be Karl Joseph reborn. He absolutely loves contact, and he has better ball skills than Joseph did when he came in as a freshman. He comes from a winning program, so he has that winning mentality where a player will do whatever it takes to get the W. If not this year, expect the former four-star recruit to be a household name by the time he’s done in the old gold and blue.
RS Jr. Dante Bonamico (5’8″ 185 lbs.)
Bonamico has the second-most tackles among returning safeties (Stewart) with 10 from last season to go along with a fumble recovery. The Bridgeport native has been used mostly on special teams in his first four years at West Virginia, but look for that to change, especially early on. Bonamico is a fast learner and may adjust to new schemes quicker than others.
RS Jr. Jake Long (5’11” 200 lbs.)
After losing all of last season to a wrist injury, Long has made the move from cornerback to safety. Although he hasn’t seen the field much in three years, Long is an intelligent player much like Bonamico. The wrist shouldn’t effect his play this year, so I would expect to see Long on the field a bit in the fall.
RS Jr. Sean Mahone (5’11” 200 lbs)
Much like Josh Norwood, Sean Mahone has also made the move to safety. Coach Brown and the rest of the staff decided to start him there early back when they got here in the spring. The game seems to slow down for Mahone at the safety position, as he can see more of the field and has more time to react. Most of his playing time came on special teams last year, but expect to see a bit of Mahone on defense this year. Playing in a pass-heavy conference, he will provide much needed depth at the safety position.
RS Fr. Kwantel Raines (6’3″ 210 lbs.)
Raines is certainly the biggest safety on the roster, as he is nearly the size of a linebacker. Don’t let the size fool you, he has speed to go along with it. The former four-star recruit was used for a season-high 12 plays against Baylor last season as he was still able to redshirt thanks to the new rule. After a year of growth, look for Raines to make an impact defensively this season.
RS Sr. Deamonte Lindsay (6’1″ 210 lbs.)
This is the last go around for the Martinsburg native. Lindsay will mostly be used on special teams once again this season, but he is the oldest of the safeties and will bring great leadership and knowledge to the younger guys on the team. He will also allow the starters to rest as he provides some depth.
So. Noah Guzman (6′ 205 lbs.)
From Cerritos Community College (CA) Guzman recorded 74 tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups, and a force fumble in just 11 games last year. He brings speed and ridiculous athleticism to the safety position. The former basketball player isn’t scared to go up and high-point a deep ball either. I expect him to be on special teams mostly in the beginning, but as the year goes on I think we will see more of Guzman on the defensive side of the ball.
Fr. Kerry Martin Jr. (6′ 195 lbs.)
Finally, this may surprise some people, and Kerry Martin Jr. might even end up redshirting, but let me tell you this… The kid had a helluva spring. He opted to enroll early at WVU last January to get a jumpstart on college football, and Martin did just that. The Charleston native was an all-around standout athlete at Capital. The former quarterback buzzed around the field in the spring, recording a couple of interceptions and forcing incomplete passes against some of our top offensive guys.