Coaching staff review: defense

Gold and Blue Nation

No. 1 in total defense among Power 5 schools and No. 1 nationally in passing yards allowed — that’s how West Virginia finished the 2020 season. In the Big 12 Conference, it finished at No. 1 in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense. It checked in at No. 4 in the league in rushing defense.

The defensive coaching staff welcomed to new faces in the 2021. The coaching assignments saw a slight shift with the new additions.

“I am pleased to announce the defensive staff assignments, including Jordan Lesley, as the coordinator,” head coach Neal Brown said in February. “The staff did a great job of coaching and teaching last year, and our defense was an important part of our team’s success.”

As we round out our 2021 roster review series, let’s take a look at the West Virginia defensive coaches.
 

Jordan Lesley — defensive coordinator/outside linebackers

Lesley has been with the program since Neal Brown arrived in 2019 and previously served as the defensive line coach. In his first season coaching the d-line, WVU finished No. 25 nationally in sacks and No. 35 in tackles for loss. The Stills brothers, Darius and Dante, tied for second in the Big 12 in sacks that season. Darius also ranked No. 5 in the league in TFLs while Dante was No. 10.

In 2020, Dante finished No. 10 in the league in TFLs and Akheem Mesidor checked in at No. 9 in sacks in his first season with the program. Darius Stills was named the Big 12’s Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year and has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Raiders.

In the 2021 class, Lesley recruited defensive linemen Brayden Dudley, Hammond Russel and Edward Vesterinen. Russel was ranked as the No. 80 defensive end in the nation and No. 23 prospect in Ohio by ESPN while Vesterinen is the top recruit from Finland.

ShaDon Brown — co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs

Brown is the newest coach on the Mountaineer staff. He joined the program in February of 2021 after spending the past two seasons as the safeties coach at Louisville.

“That’s my guy,” junior CB Nicktroy Fortune said of his new position coach. “At first I was kind of a bit unsure. I didn’t really know him and he really didn’t know me, but with time I realized how cool of a guy he is. He’s never really serious unless he’s coaching us up on something we messed up.”

Last season, the Cardinals secondary led the ACC in passing defense and ranked No. 17 nationally in that category, giving up 189.2 yards per contest. The unit also checked in at No. 3 in the league in scoring defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense.

Roster review: cornerbacks

Andrew Jackson — defensive line

Jackson joined the defensive staff in January of 2021. He comes to Morgantown after spending the past season as the defensive line coach and defensive recruiting coordinator at Old Dominion. In 2019, he visited Milan Puskar Stadium with James Madison for the season opener. In his lone season at JMU, the program led the FCS in total defense and was No. 3 in scoring defensive.

“He’s definitely a great coach and I like him a lot. Since he’s new, the d-line has to break him into our program and personalities. I’m happy he’s on board,” Dante Stills said of his new position coach this spring. “He’s very focused on running to the football, being active all the time, never stopping your feet, stuff like that.”

Roster Review: defensive line

Jeff Koonz — special teams coordinator/inside linebackers

Koonz is in his second season at his current position. In 2020, starting MIKE linebacker Tony Fields finished No. 1 in the Big 12 Conference in total tackles (88) and was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Fields also finished with four TFLs, one sack, an interception and four QB hurries and was tabbed the league’s Newcomer of the Year. Fellow starting LB Josh Chandler-Semedo finished No. 7 in the conference in total tackles with 64.

As far as special teams goes, the Mountaineers finished at the top of the Big 12 in kickoffs, No. 2 in PATs, going a perfect 29-of-29, and No. 4 in punting.

Koonz helped recruit Ja’Corey Hammett as part of the 2021 class. He was listed at No. 29 at his position by Rivals.

Roster Review: linebackers
Roster Review: specialists

Donate Wright — safeties

He is also in his second season with the program. Redshirt senior safety Alonzo Addae finished No. 2 on the team in total tackles with 66. Former defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae credited Wright for the improvements in Alonzo’s game last season. Addae also tied for the team-high with two interceptions and finished No. 2 in pass breakups with five total.

Wright’s room returns two starters from a year ago, Addae and Sean Mahone. Mahone started all 10 games last season and tallied 54 tackles, two TFLs, one interception and four PBUs. Spear Tykee Smith tied with Addae for a team-high two interceptions last year and also for No. 2 in pass breakups with five. He was the fourth-leading tackler, finishing with 61 total to go along with eight TFLs.

He helped recruit Aubrey Burks and Davis Mallinger as part of the 2021 recruiting class. Burks was ranked the No. 53 best safety in the country by ESPN while Mallinger was rated as a three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports.

Roster Review: safeties

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