WVU football: Freshman can't be too reliant on speed
MORGANTOWN - There is fast on the football field and there is Nana Kyeremeh on the football field.
This is not to say the freshman cornerback from Worthington, Ohio, is especially fast or critically slow. He is instead one of the faster players on the team, though one with a peculiar problem common to many who are new to college.
"The bad part of being fast is sometimes you rely on your speed too much and you think you're always going to catch up with the guy," West Virginia cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts said. "The thing I always tell Nana, the main point of emphasis for him, is not to modify his speed and not to gauge his speed based on the receiver. He needs to play fast all the time."
On the surface, that wouldn't seem like a problem for the 5 foot, 11 inch, 175-pound Kyeremeh (full name is pronounced NAN-uh KY-rum). He was one of the best sprinters in all the high schools that populate Ohio. He won three state championships for relays, placed third in another and placed third in the 100 meters for Thomas Worthington High.
Kyeremeh played safety as a senior and saw top talent on the way to representing Ohio in the Big 33 Football Classic against Pennsylvania. He was a quick learner at WVU. Kyeremeh was second-team by the second week and played a little with the starters. The speed was to credit and he led the team throughout preseason camp in interceptions.
"He's got great vision and really good ball skills," Roberts said. "He can locate the ball. The fact the ball is getting thrown by Geno Smith with high velocity and a lot of touch means he's getting good preparation for finding it."
Kyeremeh has nevertheless had some trouble. When the team released its depth chart Monday that structured the start of practice Tuesday, Kyeremeh was a third-team corner.
"Sometimes he tends to get into coast mode and slows down because he knows he can almost always catch up with people, but you can't play like that," Roberts said. "I want him on top of receivers all the time."
Kyeremeh sees all of this and understand it quite clearly.
He's learned that while competition in high school was good, it's very different in college. The receivers are bigger, faster and stronger now, and a few of them have all three going for them at once. The focus is on footwork and hand speed and technique like never before.
Being fast helps some problems, but can cause as many as it solves.
"It helps if you get beat because you can use your speed to make the play, but sometimes I kind of have a problem with it because I rely on it too much," Kyeremeh said. "Someone gets behind me and I can't catch up or I close too fast and he makes a move and I can't get him."
Roberts wants Kyeremeh to eliminate the margin for error and to close the gaps the opponents can sometimes exploit. He's hard on his players, though with a purpose, but he's especially hard on Kyeremeh, as well as fellow freshman Ricky Rumph.
Roberts will make Kyeremeh repeat drills to get it right, or to get it right twice in a row. He'll call out to Kyeremeh by his jersey number. Sometimes that's because "Seven" is easier to say than Kyeremeh, but that doesn't explain when Roberts calls the player "Nana."
The lessons and the language can be pointed, which is a deviation from Roberts and who he is. Quite frankly, it surprised Kyeremeh at first.
"I didn't expect that at first and it kind of shocked me, but I didn't get yelled at that much in high school, either," Kyeremeh said. "But he gave me a reality check and reminded me I have to do my job. I think he sees the potential in me and wants me to focus on the things I need to be focused on."
It's not natural from Roberts, a former class president at the University of Texas and a Harvard Law graduate, but it's not necessarily an act either. He's intense with an idea in mind and that can mean being mean. What Roberts has learned is Kyeremeh is "mentally tough" and can be trusted in environments that will require trust.
"He has a high tolerance for criticism," Roberts said. "When it comes to freshmen, when it comes to most players, I understand that we're going to be playing in some very hostile environments. I need to find out as much as I can how much they can handle. Right now.
"They're not going to be that friendly to us in Oklahoma State. I have to try to push as many buttons as I can now and then figure out how far I can go with each player."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.