Youth at Safety Position Hard for WVU to Ignore
The makeup of West Virginia’s secondary — specifically the safety position — is unique to the eye.
A gamebreaking leader in Alonzo Addae returns this fall, as do key contributors Sean Mahone and Scottie Young. Yet, outside of those three and Kerry Martin, the position is extremely youth-heavy. Of the team’s 12 total safeties, five are in either their first or second year at the college level.
While that inexperience may be troubling to some, safeties coach Dontae Wright says that the younger guys are fitting right into the fold.
“They’re a fun group to coach, they’re a fun group to be around,” Wright said about the entire unit.
“They’re extremely talented. They work the right way. Effort is never an issue with this group because of the leadership we have. Alonzo and Sean and Scottie do a great job of pushing the group and understanding what our standards are and what we live by.”
The Mountaineers’ season opener against Maryland is still two weeks away, but it’s already been emphasized that those young safeties — due to their physical skills and mental understanding — are going to see the field regardless.
Davis Mallinger, a three-star prospect who enrolled at West Virginia in January, is one of three true freshmen to make an impression this fall. A wide receiver in high school, his athleticism makes him an attractive piece to use on special teams.
Aubrey Burks falls into a similar category. Wright has praised him for his mental acumen, saying he is the most advanced of the younger players in that area, in addition to being close physically to Mallinger.
“He’s really smart,” Wright said. “He can play multiple positions. He’s the only one of the young guys that I’m making play two positions because he has the mental capacity to do it.”
Saint McLeod, who hails from the same Philadelphia-area high school that former Mountaineer Tykee Smith attended, is not as advanced as Mallinger and Burks according to Wright, but he’s nearing that point.
“The guys that you mentioned, and I’d throw in Caleb Coleman with that group because he’s another incoming guy coming out of juco, the guys that you mentioned have to be contributors on special teams,” Wright responded to a question about the trio. “Have to. Like, have no other option. They’re too athletic, they’re too fast, they’re too strong — they have to help us on special teams.”
In addition to all three playing likely roles on special teams, Wright said that each are all close to being able to contribute as depth on defense.
Outside of the three, two transfers have been added to the mix this offseason. Coleman, who comes to Morgantown from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, and Charles Woods, who earned All-American honors at Division II Illinois State in 2019, also bring
Coleman is still in need of more seasoning according to Wright, but Woods has shined in preseason camp by showcasing his versatility at both Spear and cornerback.
In all, the unit’s depth is a welcome addition to the Mountaineers’ defense.
“They work really, really hard and they happen to be really good football players too,” Wright said. “Now those young guys gotta grow up, and they will, and they’ve made tremendous strides, but they’re going to be able to help us.”