MORGANTOWN — One of the biggest hits this off-season for WVU was the loss of cornerback Dreshun Miller, who entered the transfer portal and appears set to start at Auburn this season.
Miller’s exit is still puzzling to those outside of the program, and it left a major void in the Mountaineers’ secondary heading into spring practice.
Miller started nine-of-10 games last season, while Nicktroy Fortune started all 10 opposite of Miller, and the two were supposed to form a dynamic duo yet again in 2021. Now, Fortune is the elder statesman of the cornerbacks room, with a battle brewing with the younger players to see who will get the starting nod, just three weeks before the season opener Sept. 4 at Maryland.
Fortune knows a thing or two about being thrown into the fire as a youngster — as a true freshman in 2019, he was forced into action because of injuries to starters Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey.
In a few instances, it went as some would imagine.
“I got beat a couple of times. But the biggest thing was just knowing that even the greats get beat, and when you get beat, you’ve got to keep your head held high,” Fortune said. “It took me until the end of my sophomore year to really learn that, and once I learned that, the sky was the limit for me. My confidence skyrocketed, and going into this season it’s the highest it’s ever been and I know for a fact there won’t be anything that will ruin or mess that up.”
Fortune remembers giving up a touchdown to Texas in 2019 and returned to the sideline with deflated teammates — a time he considers the low-point of his career. Talking with family and starting to believe in himself was how he got out of that rut, playing one of the toughest positions in football when it comes to mental toughness.
“I’m not here for no reason. Playing at West Virginia University, a Division-I program — I didn’t come here to not put myself out there, I came here to make an impact,” Fortune said. “Just reminding myself of that is what helped me get myself out of that hole that I dug myself into.”
Fortune’s experience can be a lesson to his teammates, regardless of who wins the spot during fall camp. Jackie Matthews is a former junior college All-American but played mostly special teams last season. Daryl Porter Jr. is in a similar spot, appearing in six games as a true freshman, but was mainly used on special teams. Charles Woods, a transfer from Illinois State, was an FCS All-American in 2019 and redshirted last season, but he is making a significant jump to a Power 5 team.
Matthews appeared to be the favorite coming out of the spring, but had a nagging foot injury at the start of fall camp that has limited him, though head coach Neal Brown said it wasn’t anything too serious.
Porter Jr.’s biggest issue the last two seasons is consistency, according to Brown, but he’s off to a strong start to camp. Cornerbacks coach ShaDon Brown said the same, “He’s had some good days and I’d say with seven practices, he’s had six really good ones.”
ShaDon Brown credited Porter’s attention to detail, along with his coachability and willingness to learn, to why he should get significant playing time this year.
Woods is learning an all-new scheme, but Brown also said he picks up on his mistakes quickly and puts them to bed, something that is critical for cornerbacks.
“Daryl Porter, Jackie Matthews and Charles Woods, they have been doing their thing this fall,” Fortune said. “We are really close. I feel like that’s the biggest thing. We have hung out before. So that was the biggest thing going into the fall, to make sure we had each other’s back.”