Poise Of Play

Terrell Chestnut has been lauded for his maturity, leadership and performance by cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. But it’s his poise the Mountaineers must mirror most against No. 2 Alabama on Saturday.

Chestnut, a redshirt junior, is slated as the starter at left cornerback opposite Daryl Worley. And while much of the media focus has been on Worley and freshman phenom Dravon Henry, Chestnut is the savvy torchbearer in a young but talented defensive backfield that also includes heavy hitter Karl Joseph.

“His wisdom is beyond his age,” Mitchell said. “He’s been around, he’s seen the game. He’s doing a tremendous job of leading. He’s doing a great job of coaching those guys on the sidelines when not getting reps. He’s going into his junior year and he’s seen a lot of football at this university.”

Chestnut’s mental fortitude was tested early. The 5-10, 190-pounder has already undergone three surgeries in as many years and actually arrived on WVU’s campus in 2011 only recently recovered from a torn labrum surgery after a prep career at Pottsgrove High in Pennsylvania.

“It’s no different than any other big game that we have been a part of in the history of West Virginia. Nobody gave us a chance but the state of West Virginia. That’s the chip on the shoulder.”
Terrell Chestnut

Chestnut promptly tore it again, which necessitated a redshirt season. The Scout.com three-star player finally recovered enough to see action in six games his redshirt freshman year, including three starts as WVU reached the Pinstripe Bowl – where Chestnut blew out his knee, causing him to ponder if he wanted to continue his collegiate career.

“I did think about that,” Chestnut said. “I felt old at times, older than I was. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing. But coach Mitchell, he showed me some of his scars, too.”

Mitchell, who had a storied career at BYU before being selected in the seventh round by the Atlanta Falcons, said that Chestnut’s “toolbox is full of things that he can lean on when it’s time to lean on them.

“The athleticism speaks for itself,” Mitchell said. “He was a highly recruited kid. He’s doing exactly what you’d ask of him. He’s a guy that, when the young guys come to him – and the older guys come to him, too – that he can give them some wisdom and calm them a bit.”

Chestnut played in 10 games last season, providing depth at a thin corner position while finishing with 10 tackles and a forced fumble. Hardly the stats of legend, but it was the start of yet another road to full recovery.

With a fully healthy offseason behind him, and the emotional injury demons long since silenced, Chestnut has began to expand his role as a player into one as a motivator and psychologist, traits that could be tested by a Alabama offense with a trio of highly skilled receivers in Amari Cooper and upperclassmen DeAndrew White and Christion Jones.

“Poise. Keep everybody calm; Don’t get too rattled by the stage that we are about to play on,” Chestnut said. “They put on pads just like we put on. We gotta play the game and not play the name. Everybody is tuned in and aware of who we are playing. But at the end of the day, it’s not about Alabama. It’s about West Virginia.”

Understand assignments and schemes. Execute. Slow down and let the game come instead of forcing the action. And tackle – the one aspect coordinator Tony Gibson said worries him most. Not because the Mountaineers haven’t gotten better at it, but because it’s the one thing that can blow a play up despite everybody playing mentally-solid assignment football. Alabama is more than a three-touchdown favorite, and nary a soul outside the Mountain State is giving WVU a chance.

“It’s no different than any other big game that we have been a part of in the history of West Virginia,” Chestnut said. “Nobody gave us a chance but the state of West Virginia. That’s the chip on the shoulder. … This is why you play the game. It came quick, but it’s a great opportunity to go out and play a game against a great team. Again, it’s a great challenge, but we are ready. We have to take care of West Virginia, then worry about Alabama.”

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