Next man up: With Smith gone, WVU still has options in secondary

WVU Football

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A lot has changed for the WVU football defensive backfield over the last few months. 

Sunday, All-American safety Tykee Smith announced that he has committed to Georgia, where he’ll rejoin former WVU assistant coach Jahmile Addae. Smith, who emerged as one of the top young defensive backs in college football during his two seasons at WVU, entered the transfer portal in late March. 

During a recent press conference, head coach Neal Brown remained adamant that the Mountaineers will find a replacement for Smith soon. 

“We’ll go get some help,” Brown said. 

Though Smith and cornerback Dreshun Miller are now gone, the Mountaineers still possess some talent and experience in the defensive secondary. The leader of that group is safety Alonzo Addae, who earned all-conference recognition in 2020 during his first season as a starter. 

A regular starter also returns at cornerback in rising junior Nicktroy Fortune, who has appeared in 21 out of a possible 22 games at WVU. Brown said he is challenging Fortune more this spring. 

“Nicktroy, he’s a guy that runs really well, he’s strong, he’s as athletic as anybody we’ve got. I just want him to take some more chances,” Brown said. “I think he needs to play a little bit more free and have confidence. I have a lot of confidence in him. Our coaches do. I want him to play with that confidence, and the spring is the time to do that.” 

It’s possible that senior Jackie Matthews is in position to become West Virginia’s other starter at cornerback. Matthews, a junior college transfer, is entering his second season at WVU, and Brown said he’s improving. 

“Year two with junior college players, you see this a lot, where it really starts to click, and you’re starting to see that,” Brown said. “He’s been solid and competitive.” 

At safety, West Virginia native Kerry Martin Jr. could also return to a regular role after opting out of the 2020 campaign. Brown said Martin was “rusty” in early spring practices — he hadn’t seen live game action since the win at TCU to conclude the 2019 season — but he has added weight, which Brown said could make him more competitive. 

“He’s got to continue to do the right things, and he’s learning both safety positions, but he’s had a positive five days through these first two weeks,” Brown said. 

Addae likes what he’s seeing from the Charleston native

“Kerry looks great,” Addae said. “Kerry came back hungry, ready to play. Knowledge of the game is still there. The repetitions are helping him. Excited to see what KJ will do this fall.” 

Brown added that sophomore Daryl Porter Jr. could get into the mix at cornerback, but he recently missed some time and is still getting back into shape, while redshirt junior Malachi Ruffin could make appearances at safety and continue to play a role on special teams. 

Additionally, incoming freshman Andrew Wilson-Lamp is repping at cornerback, while fellow freshman Davis Mallinger is taking snaps at safety, according to Brown.

The annual Gold-Blue Spring Game is set for April 24 at Milan Puskar Stadium. 

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