Straight as a Country Road
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Brandon Hogan’s path to Saturday’s season finale against Rutgers has been about as straight as a West Virginia country road. There have been detours, delays, and yes, even a flat tire or two along the way, but through it all he has managed to persevere.
Hogan came to Morgantown a touted high school quarterback, soon switched to wide receiver, and then later moved to defensive back when Bill Stewart and his new coaching staff took over in 2008. There were also personal issues for Hogan to overcome. He overcame them and today he might be perhaps the most valuable player on a Mountaineer defense loaded with most valuable players.
Stewart said just as much earlier this week.
“I think he’s the best corner in the league,” he said. “I’ve talked to the defensive staff and he may be the best player on our team at this time.”
Hogan’s numbers this year have been outstanding: 36 tackles, six pass breakups, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. In 45 career games he has produced 170 tackles, 34 pass breakups, seven picks and four fumble recoveries. But mere numbers don’t come close to telling the whole story. That’s because teams often avoid throwing the football to his side of the field.
“He’s been that one shutdown corner you like to have,” said cornerback coach Dave Lockwood. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach Brandon these last three years. You can’t say enough about how far he’s come from day one when he came over to defense. From that day on, we knew he was going to be a pretty good football player.”
Lockwood saw right away Hogan’s athletic ability and the swagger all good corners need. What Brandon lacked was the knowledge and the savvy of a good corner.
“I think when he first came over he was just cover that guy,” Lockwood explained. “It’s a little more to that and now with the experience he’s a football player. When you ask him stuff in the meeting room he can answer that question, but more importantly, he takes it from the meeting room and he takes it out on the field. He’s come a long way. He sees the whole picture now.”
“When a play comes my way I try and make the play,” Hogan shrugged. “The coaches tell me I get lazy when the plays are not coming to me and I’ve got to stop doing that. (Lockwood) said I’ve got to live with it and take it as a good thing that they’re not coming at me.”
Pitt tried to attack Hogan’s side of the field last Friday and the result was a 53-yard interception and return to set in motion West Virginia’s resounding 35-10 victory. Later, Brandon made a key fumble recovery that stopped another Panther drive. Pitt’s 6-foot-5 receiver Jon Baldwin did manage to get one long catch on Hogan, but he does that against everybody.
“They just throw it up there on anybody,” said Hogan. “They tried it a couple of times but I was able to hold him from getting into the end zone.”
To get an idea of just how valuable Hogan has been to West Virginia’s defense all you have to do is go back to the Maryland game when he was serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules. West Virginia dominated the Terps with the exception of two long touchdown catches by Torrey Smith – both coming against Hogan’s replacement.
Hogan paid the price for his misstep that week and was back in the lineup the following Saturday against LSU.
“He did what I ordered him to do,” said Stewart.
“He could have given up on me, just like any coach could have given up on a player when they mess up,” Hogan admitted.
But Stewart didn’t and today Hogan has an opportunity to continue his playing career beyond college.
“Will he have the opportunity (to play in the NFL)? Yeah, I think he will,” said Lockwood. “There are no guarantees, but whatever camp he gets in he’s got to prove himself all over again.”
Stewart sees a bright future for Hogan as long as he continues to maintain his focus.
“I love to watch him play each and every day,” said Stewart. “A lot of guys I like to watch play on Saturdays, but Brandon I love to watch every day because every day is game day. He gives it everything he has each and every practice and, therefore, he has become a tremendous college football player.”
Many thought Hogan, once the offensive player of the year in Virginia, was going to do great things on that side of the football; had the previous coaching staff remained at West Virginia that is a distinct possibility. However, it is clear after watching him the last three years that defense is where Hogan belongs.
Would Hogan’s career have turned out differently if he had remained on offense? Brandon doesn’t think so.
“I would have had to do something,” he laughed. “”If I’m on the field I’ve got to make some type of plays. I felt I would have done alright.”
On Friday evening Hogan will get an opportunity to tell his teammates what his four years at West Virginia University have meant to him when the seniors gather together one final time at the team hotel. Hogan said he won’t get emotional when he addresses his teammates.
“I don’t want to break down in front of my fellow teammates,” he said.
It might be a different story for his old ball coach – the guy who recruited him out of Manassas, Va. – and watched him grow as most kids do when they are placed in a stable, nourishing environment.
“He came here a young man and will leave here a man,” Stewart said. “That is what college is all about. It’s turning young men into men and turning potential leaders into leaders.”
And for some sometimes that process can take a little longer - much like it does traveling those twisting, turning West Virginia country roads.
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