Starting Push

Prior to West Virginia's Meineke Car Care Bowl victory over North Carolina in December, then-freshman defensive back Keith Tandy had only seen time in 20 plays all year. He more than doubled that number when he started in place of Brandon Hogan in the bowl game.

The perspective gained by Hogan from his experience in WVU's win went far beyond the actual game experience. It showed him how preparation in practice translates to the field, and gave him new insight into the importance of the teaching process.

"[The bowl game] was huge for me," admitted Tandy. "In practice, Coach Lockwood will tell you something but you don't really know if it works out not but when you get in the game and try it one time it makes stuff a whole lot easier."

Tandy had just four days to prepare for the biggest game of his life. He found out at the Mountaineers' first bowl practice that he would be starting in place of Hogan, and the knowledge might have contributed to a tough start.

"[On Tuesday] I had a pretty bad practice but Coach was like, ‘I have confidence in you. Keep doing what you're doing'. Then it got better," said Tandy. "The next day it got better and each day of practice it got better. I felt my confidence getting better. I couldn't really sleep the night before the game. I think I slept like two or three hours the night before the game."

The lack of sleep didn't show as Tandy stepped right in as a starter without missing a beat. He had a season high three solo tackles against the Tar Heels, and although UNC featured an excellent passing attack, he performed acceptably. "It was pretty good," Tandy said of his performance. "I would have liked to have played better but we won the game and that's what matters."

Tandy's experience in December gave him confidence that has carried over into summer workouts. With a year of experience under his belt, and a better knowledge of the meshing of practice and game performance, a more consistent 2009 is in his view. As a frontrunner for one of the starting cornerback jobs this year, he believes he is ready to make his mark on a Mountaineer defense that could be one of the best units in the country.

"It's like, you played against one of the top wide receivers in the country [North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks] and he was a first round draft pick," said Tandy. "So you know you can compete with one of the best players in the country. You have to be confident at cornerback and you have to be able to forget quickly."

Now that his big debut is behind him, Tandy can worry more about the actions of opponents' receivers and less about proving himself. He admits that he still gets nervous, but nothing like he did that Saturday in December. That, like everything else, is a matter of experience. The more times he goes through it, the less of a problem it will be.

"Every time I play a game, I get nervous but it won't be anything like that," said Tandy. "[Without worrying about being nervous] you can worry about what routes [opponents] are running and you can worry about other things and bettering yourself in the game."

Going into a season in which the defense figures to be called upon in a big way, especially early on, Tandy's newfound confidence could prove to be extremely beneficial. If he can help solidify WVU's pass defense, the Mountaineers could be positioned for another bowl-winning season.

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