By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s football team is expecting to fly high this season as it moves into the Big 12, which will satisfy just about everyone on the team except for one freshman cornerback.
Nana Kyeremeh has a fear of heights.
“When I was little I told my parents I wanted to make planes but I didn’t want to fly because I’m afraid of heights,” he recalled the other day as he met with the Mountaineer media for the first time.
Figuratively flying high, as a football team does, probably will not bother him, and if the Mountaineers are to do that, it will take a good bit of help from him even in his first college season.
In early workouts this summer, the former Thomas Worthington standout from Worthington, Ohio, a suburb of a city football fans know something about called Columbus, has flown quite high while keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground.
In fact, he is running with the second unit and figures to be part of the nickel and dime packages the defense puts to use often in the pass-happy Big 12 conference.
“At first coach said I might have a chance to play here, but I didn’t know it was this urgent. Once I realized I had a chance to play, I’m taking it in stride and getting used to it,” he said.
In perhaps the ultimate irony, two of the major assets from this young man who prefers not to be up there flying is that he has the speed of an SST, and his wingspan is exceptionally big for someone just 5-11 and 170 pounds.
“I told him to hold his arms out because I don’t think he realized how long his wingspan was,” cornerback coach Daron Roberts said. “He ran a 10.6 100-meter dash in high school, and he can find the ball at the last minute. I told him, ‘Listen, I haven’t been around that long, but guys with your skill set don’t come along that often. What’s going to separate you is making sure you get extra film work in.’
“We can clean up his technique on the field, but he needs to get as much film work in as possible. And he does it.”
The on-field stuff isn’t that much of a change for Kyeremeh, but film study isn’t something he did much of in high school.
“I watched a little bit of film in high school but not as in-depth as we are doing right now in college. I think once I get used to the process of how to watch it the right way, I will get used to it,” he said.
What might take more getting used to is facing players the caliber of Big 12 receivers. All you have to know is you will be squaring off against receivers from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor in this conference, and you know the challenge is there.
But Kyeremeh has an advantage that a lot of Big 12 freshmen don’t have.
He spends every practice chasing after the likes of Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin in practice, perhaps the best duo of receivers in the conference.
“Going against guys like Stedman and all the great receivers we have, it makes you better. You have to focus more on technique,” he said.
And to date he’s done pretty well facing them, considering the experience edge they have.
“I think I’m holding my own for the most part. They beat me a few plays, but I get mine, too. If I can go against these receivers I’ll have a pretty good chance against the Big 12,” he said.
His speed has helped.
“We have some fast receivers who can move, but once I know what I’m doing, it’s pretty hard to get by,” he said.
Other than the speed that allowed him to win two 4 x 200 state track titles along with one 4 x 400 crown and place third in the 100 as a senior and the wingspan, there is something else that separates Kyeremeh from many other freshman football players who enroll in WVU ... or most anywhere else, for that matter, is his major.
Picking WVU wasn’t a bad choice there, either, as WVU got a $34 million gift to the engineering department just this year.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.