West Virginia Tackle Yodny Cajuste Morphing Into Dependable Player Just Three Years Into Career

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's assumed starting left tackle has taken a precarious route to his position.

Just three years ago, the blindside protector was playing basketball in high school at Miramar High outside Miami. Now, he's the de facto starting tackle at West Virginia. So what has led to the 6-5, 304-pounder being forgoing what he thought was his first love, and embracing football?

The story is aged at this point. Cajuste's ability and skillset seemed a perfect fit for what former WVU player and co-defensive line coach Damon Cogdell was looking for when he was coaching at the prep level. Cajuste had the size, frame and fit for an offensive line position. What he didn't have was experience. But Cogdell, then the head coach at Miramar High, saw something in the then-rising senior, and as the tale goes, asked Cajuste to try his hand at tackle for the football team. After an apparent seven-times-is-the-charm persuasion, Cogdell convinced Yodny to take a shot at football, and the remainder is a blur of development, experience, and a fortune not seen often.

Cajuste himself often regales media members with the story of how he never wanted to play the sport, how he opted first, second, third...and sixth, for basketball. But the seventh time Cogdell asked, Cajuste agreed to join the storied Miramar program and immediately rose up the depth chart. Cajuste, being a member of a program which sent multiple players to Power Five schools annually, was the recipient of a plethora of scouts watching the games played by far greater prospects, at least in terms of ranking. When the lineman found his new sport, what he also found was that those same scouts began to lock in on him during games.

That led to an immediate - and first - offer from the Mountaineers, and the rest, as said, is historical footnote.

"I'm proud I made that shift," Cajuste said. "Looking back, basketball wasn't going to cut it. I played small forward, power forward and center. I was pretty good, but now I'm blessed.

"I was blessed to be on a team that was pretty good my senior year, and we won a lot of games," Cajuste added. "I liked the physical part.  Being thrown in the fire and just being depended on my first year playing football, I loved it. I felt football showed me a whole lot more love than basketball did. We had college coaches coming in almost every day, and to every game, so they saw me. They liked what they saw. Syracuse, Florida, a whole bunch of schools."

West Virginia, as expected, won the recruiting battle. Now, as Cogdell returns to the prep game at Carol City High, just a stones throw from Miramar, Cajuste remains a key cog in an offensive line which is expected to be among the best in the Big 12. Cajuste has adjusted from the previous love, and embraced that tackle slot as his own, working on kick and slide steps and becoming a dependable left tackle, arguably the most difficult job on the line.

"I knew where I was going," he said."And honestly, it was easier to learn the tackle position for me, as opposed to basketball where it takes years to master the skills, know how to dribble, how to shoot, to become an elite basketball player. Football, it's easier to grasp it." 

Now he has not only the groundwork for a solid career, but the every-day backing of coaches who genuinely believe he is a legit starter.

"He leaned on and depended upon his athleticism early," offensive line coach Ron Crook said. "His basketball background, his footwork, things like that. Now he is learning how to be a football player. He ain't there yet and I'm not ready to say he's all this and all that. He's getting better. I don't want just basketball players; I want guys who can play football and be tough. Mentally tough, physically tough, all that stuff. But having a basketball background can help. 

"The great thing about those basketball players is they usually have great feet and some explosion to them from being in the gym and jumping a lot. Things like that are great, but playing football is a lot different. So we love those guys and love what they can bring and do, but there is another aspect to it."

Which is what Cajuste is learning now. From pass sets and protection to proper footwork and hand placement - to say nothing of drive and not standing up immediately upon the snap  (a cardinal sin for any line player of which Cajuset was guilty early)  - the sophomore's game has come a very long way, indeed.

"I'm obviously a lot stronger than I was last season, and I'm more patient," Cajuste said. "The game has slowed down for me. I feel like I worked a lot on my pass set over the spring and offseason. I'll say all-around I am a better player than I was last year. I have a lot to prove because I didn't play a whole season last year. I think about that every day and it fuels my fire."

Injured just six games in, Cajuste used the time on the sidelines to hone his mental and physical reps to the point where he is a key cog in a line that figures to be among the strongest West Virginia has had under Dana Holgorsen. He returned for the season finale against Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl, and lined up as a tight end in a blocking role and gave the Mountaineers another dimension and stout body along the line for both passing and running plays.

"Yodny is a talented guy," said offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, who also handles the tight ends and fullbacks and works extensively with the tackles. "He's young; He's green. He had some injuries last year but he's got a big upside. I've said this before that in the truest form, he and Marcell (Lazard) are willing guys. They understand where they want to be and they accept the challenge and take coaching well. He's coming along well, holding down that left side tackle."

Cajuste played 462 offensive snaps last season - including playing 70 or more in four games - as West Virginia averaged 34 points and 480 yards per game.

"Things I know now, I wish I knew two years ago," Cajuste said. "I always tell the guys to take coaching. Be a sponge and soak up everything you can early. The light went on for me in the spring. That's when I realized it was getting easier. The game was definitely fast for me. It was moving. Now after the spring and in camp, it's slowing down and I am starting to see things. No matter how long you play, there's room for improvement, and you are always going to see things you want to improve on and things you want to get better at."


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