By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 17, 2008
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Brandon Hogan has come to expect the unexpected. As a youngster growing up in Manassas, Va., Hogan was a terror in the pee-wee leagues as a running back. When he arrived at Osbourn High School, however, the coaches there thought he would be better suited to play quarterback.
Why not let our best athlete touch the ball all of the time, they figured. Realizing he could also help the team on defense, the coaches let him play safety as well.
At West Virginia, the former coaching staff first tried to use him at slot receiver, rationalizing that his big-play ability fit in well with the no-huddle, spread offense. That lasted about a year until some of the defensive coaches discovered that Hogan could backpedal, break on the football with lightning quickness and hit receivers with helmet-loosening force. Why are we not playing Hogan at cornerback, they asked?
All along Hogan believed corner was probably the best place for him.
“I thought it could be a possibility,” Hogan said Tuesday afternoon. “They were right about everything they were telling me but I was always an offensive guy and I wanted to play offense.”
The exact order of how the idea of moving Hogan worked its way up the flow chart from secondary coach David Lockwood to defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and then on to head coach Bill Stewart is unclear, but when the move was finally made during fall camp Stewart became its biggest promoter.
Three months later Stewart is still singing Hogan’s praises.
“I hope he stays four years,” said Stewart. “The kid may be so doggone good next year that they may make it advantageous for him not to. He’s got a chance to be really, really, really good. Will he do it? Will he work? Will he get bigger? We’ll see but he’s got a chance.”
Swapping sides of the field is not uncommon in college football. High school defensive linemen a step slow usually wind up at offensive guard or tackle in college. Athletic tight ends and fullbacks often make their way to defensive line or linebacker.
The Mountaineer coaches knew right away that high school fullback Scooter Berry had the right physical and mental attributes to become an outstanding nose guard in the 3-3-5 stack. A two-star fullback eventually becomes a five-star defensive lineman.
There are too many other successful examples to cite.
But taking an offensive skill player used to always having the football in his hands and turning him into a defensive player is an entirely different proposition. West Virginia fans may recall the unsuccessful Jerry Porter wide-receiver-to-safety experiment a decade ago.
Porter was an average college defensive back who became a long-time pro when he was moved back to wide receiver.
The results turned out much better for senior linebacker Mortty Ivy, who came to WVU as a high school quarterback.
And it appears to be a great success with Hogan, who this year is tied with two others for the team lead with three interceptions to go along with 60 tackles, seven pass breakups and a pair of fumble recoveries. Hogan believes playing different positions earlier in his career has given him a unique perspective that other corners may not have.
“That has helped me tremendously and that’s one of the reasons I was happy with the coaches I had and the coaches I came up with moving me around to all of these different positions on the field,” he explained. “I’ve played running back. I’ve played quarterback. I’ve played safety. Everywhere I went I had a coach that coached me up and I have just taken all of that knowledge and it has helped where I am at now – just knowing football period.”
Hogan had a season-high nine tackles (six unassisted) and two pass breakups in the loss to Cincinnati earlier this year. He also had nine stops in the Mountaineers’ final regular season game against USF.
Each time he goes out on the field he says he learns something new.
“After I started to get comfortable with it and I started to learn it more everything was the same thing week in and week out - people doing the same thing,” Hogan explained. “It gets mental once you get the stuff but you’ve just got to prepare yourself better and come out and work.”
Hogan credits David Lockwood with providing the knowledge and confidence he needed to play one of college football’s most demanding positions.
“Coach Lockwood has helped me tremendously. He’s given me the courage and the ability to go out there and do something that I never even tried in my life,” Hogan said. “Basically I could have gone out there and made a fool of myself but he saw something in me and gave me the opportunity to go out there and do it.”
Just three months into it, Hogan says he is starting to see the bigger picture and how his position fits into the team’s overall defensive philosophy.
“I’m seeing what people are doing, what route packages they’re doing; I’m seeing what the quarterback is reading because I know some of the reads he has to make,” Hogan said. “It just helps me all over the field playing all of these different positions. I know what running backs have to do from playing running back my whole life until I got to high school. You can tell when the screen is coming when we’re in cover two from a running back not carrying out his fake well enough. In cover two I can come up and get that.
“It’s just a night and day difference that has worked out for the better,” Hogan said.
Hogan admits that there is a simple reason for his dramatic development at cornerback this year.
“I don’t want to be on the field getting embarrassed,” Hogan said. “You can be at cornerback on the field getting embarrassed and have the whole game turned around on one play. I try to learn everything I can and absorb so much information from the coaches and everything. I go out there and just try to do the best job that I can to perform when I get my chance.”
Hogan realizes that he will be tested in this year's Meineke Car Care Bowl against an outstanding group of North Carolina receivers.
"They do a lot of double moves and they do a lot of things to get the corners thinking. They do a lot of hitches," Hogan said. "They keep you honest. You can't be breaking on every little thing. You have to keep your eyes right.
"They're a good team and we've got to be ready for whatever."
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