MORGANTOWN -Many were unfamiliar with Jeremy Tyler as West Virginia entered the final weeks of the 2013 season.
A true freshman safety, Tyler spent most of his time on special teams for the Mountaineers.
That changed against Kansas as he finished with three tackles while filling in for an injured Darwin Cook.
Two weeks later, in the season finale against Iowa State, Tyler earned his first start.
“When I got the call, I was up to the challenge,” he said. “I knew I was capable of making plays, but I just wanted everybody else to see that this was a good fit for this team and just hold myself accountable.”
He finished with 10 solo tackles, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and 2.5 tackles for a loss against the Cyclones.
Color the coaching staff impressed. Tyler has been penciled in as a starter at free safety ever since.
“I was thrown in the fire last year as a true freshman, and I felt really good about the decision because I was able to experience the Big 12 speed and all the physical attributes,” he said.
While he did raise eyebrows in the triple overtime loss, many eyes were already fixated on another true freshman in cornerback Daryl Worley.
Worley was impressive in 11 games last season and ended with 45 tackles and an interception to go along with five pass breakups.
During the spring, Worley completely shut down senior receiver Mario Alford in practice so much, it was reported the wide out’s confidence was effected.
“I feel like there are situations when I don’t even have to think about it anymore,” Worley said. “I can just make a move. I’m definitely a lot more comfortable.”
Now, another true freshman is looking to make an immediate impact in Dravon Henry.
Henry, along with quarterback William Crest, are the only true freshmen Coach Dana Holgorsen said will not be redshirted this season.
What some call the gem of this year’s recruiting class, Henry will, at the very least, split time with Tyler at free safety.
Not that Tyler is giving up his starting spot so easily.
“It’s kind of tough, but at the end of the day it’s football and you have to compete for every spot,” he said. “Every day is a day to get better, and there are no giveaways or handouts. You really have to earn your spot.”
In a defensive backfield as crowded as this, that’ll be easier said than done.
Tyler, Worley and Henry are just three parts of what should be a much improved Mountaineers secondary.
West Virginia allowed 33.3 points (99th in the Bowl Subdivision) and 455 yards per game in the 2013 season. If you look even further into it, the Mountaineers gave up 24 passing touchdowns, 3,160 passing yards and an average of 13 yards per catch.
Those numbers simply won’t do this year, according to Worley.
“We are never going to be content until the rankings come out and we are the number one defense in the nation,” he said.
With the Mountaineers resorting back to a 3-3-5 defensive scheme, they should have an easier time in a pass-happy Big 12 conference.
Along with Worley and Tyler, the Mountaineers return redshirt senior cornerback Ishmael Banks, junior bandit safety Karl Joseph, and junior spur safety K.J. Dillon, now healthy after sustaining an ankle injury prior to camp.
Joseph, who made a name for himself as a true freshman as well, has already landed on the Bednarik Award watch list and the preseason All-Big 12 team.
“The biggest thing for me is that I do not need to try as hard because we got so many more guys this year ready to step up and be leaders,” Joseph said. “We are a much more mature group, so I do not have to try as hard to get everybody on the same page. I think we are all on the same page this year.”