They’re the last line of defense, but West Virginia’s safeties may be among the most important position groups on defense in the high-flying Big 12 Conference.
WVU’s secondary totaled eight picks in 2019, four of which were nabbed by the safeties. On top of that, four of their top six tacklers were safeties.
Six lettermen and four non-lettermen will be returning for West Virginia, which will likely be more than enough to make up for the loss of Josh Norwood. The former transfer was a leader back deep for the Mountaineers, amassing 20 starts in his Old Gold and Blue career.
Sean Mahone will likely be the man to fill Norwood’s leading role, bringing the most experience to the secondary this season. He started all 12 games at the cat position in 2019, grabbing an interception while ranking 12th in the Big 12 with 6.7 tackles per game. All this came after starting his college career at cornerback, switching to safety in the spring of 2019.
Sophomores Kerry Martin and Tykee Smith will be back after facing unexpectedly large roles in their freshman campaigns. Smith especially took advantage of his opportunity, nabbing a pair of interceptions and earning All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and FWAA Freshman All-American nods.
Martin’s exploits didn’t go unnoticed, either, as he was named to Pro Football Focus’s All-Freshman Third Team.
As it stands, the two sophomores will likely compete for — or even share — playing time at the spear position this season, while Mahone starts again at cat.
- Redshirt Senior from Liberty Township, Ohio
- 5-11, 208 lbs
- Mahone led the Mountaineers in tackles in what turned out to be a breakout 2019 last season. He started all 12 games at safety after moving from cornerback in the spring.
- Sophomore from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 5-10, 202 lbs
- A midseason departure in 2019 thrusted Smith into a regular starting role, which he capitalized on. Mountaineer fans learned his name early on when he had a wild pick six against Iowa State, but his solid play earned him a likely spot on the starting roster for this season.
Kerry Martin Jr.
- Sophomore from Charleston, West Virginia
- 6-1, 198 lbs
- Like Smith, Martin had a fantastic freshman season. He was named to PFF’s All-Freshman Third Team after making 50 tackles and nabbing an interception. He started four games last season, but appeared in all 12.
- Junior from Whittier, California
- 5-11, 202 lbs
- Guzman was a solid role player for the Mountaineer defense last season, appearing in nine games. He will likely see a bigger role as the main depth player at cat.
Other returners: Donte Bonamico (r-Sr.), Osman Kamara (r-Sr.), Alonzo Addae (r-Sr.), Naim Muhammad (r-Fr.), Jayvon Thrift (r-Fr.), Tacorey Turner (r-Fr.)
Key Departures: Josh Norwood (20 starts)