Defenses throughout college football all have their own, unique terminologies. Even teams that run similar defensive schemes or use similar positions will usually have different names for everything.
Pitt, for example, uses ‘star’ and ‘money’ outside linebackers, the money plays to the boundary and star to the field. West Virginia uses a ‘mike’ and ‘will’ linebacker in a similar fashion, as well as a ‘bandit’ rush linebacker. Current Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos played a defensive back/linebacker hybrid position for several years at Penn State called ‘star’.
At West Virginia, coach Neal Brown and his defensive staff have the “spear” position, manned by sophomore Tykee Smith. To hear Smith describe it, the spear is a combination of a slot cornerback and an in-the-box safety.
“At that position, you’ve got to be able to run because you’re lining up with probably the fastest person on the field in the slot,” Smith explained. “And you’ve got to be able to play in the box and help in the run fits…I like the position because it allows me to showcase my talents in multiple ways.”
Smith has shined as WVU’s spear for the last two seasons. A true sophomore, Smith is tied for second on the team with 55 total tackles this season. He also has eight tackles for loss, two interceptions and four pass breakups.
“He’s played a lot of really good football here,” Brown said Tuesday. “He was a freshman All-American last year and he’s on his way to getting some postseason honors this year as well, I would hope. He’s got a great feel for the game, he’s got a knack. He can play man coverage, he blitzes, he’s physical, he’s a really good tackler, he’s really the leader in that secondary. He’s a really good football player, he does a lot of things well.”
Smith started eight games as a true freshman in 2019 and was named a Freshman All-American following the season.
“He’s a combination of a cover guy and a physical linebacker, which is really what we look for [in that position],” co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley explained. “The biggest improvement I’ve seen from Tykee from year one to year two is fundamental. He plays off blocks, his tackling in space is ten-fold better than what is was last year and he’s gotten better in coverage and understanding the coverage and how it matches.”
A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Smith committed to WVU in the summer of 2018 to former WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. When Holgorsen left for the University of Houston and Brown was hired, Smith said he was not sure about coming to WVU still until he and Brown met for the first time.
“At first, it was really up in the air, confusing because I didn’t know Coach Brown and how I fit in their defensive scheme,” Smith said. “The week [Brown] got the job he got in touch with me and got up to my school the same week and we got to sit down and talk about how I’d be used.”
Rated as a three-star prospect, Smith had a few other offers coming out of Imhotep Charter High — Baylor, Duke, Maryland, Michigan State, Pitt, Rutgers, among others — but the one offer he never received was from Penn State.
Former Penn State All-American linebacker Micah Parsons recently tweeted that he is still upset he and Smith did not get to play together for the Nittany Lions.
— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) November 15, 2020
Smith said he and Parsons played on the same 7-on-7 team during high school, along with current WVU running back Leddie Brown, a fellow Philadelphia native.
Smith said moving from a city like Philadelphia to Morgantown took some getting used to, but he is happy that he got to stay relatively close to home, even if it is not as close as State College would have been.
“I’m an inner-city kid, coming out here was way different than what where I’m from and what I’m used to seeing,” Smith said. “I wanted to get away, but I’m not too far away if I needed to get home if something was to happen.”
Smith and the Mountaineers will host the Oklahoma Sooners for their regular-season home finale this weekend. WVU and OU will kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday from Milan Puskar Stadium and the game will be broadcast on ABC.