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BYU football: Wilcox working to lead an otherwise young cornerbacks crew

PROVO — Making a play on the football is something easier said than done.

Just ask BYU junior cornerback Chris Wilcox, who has taken his share of coverage lumps over his first two years, having been thrown into the fire early. But it's something that comes with the territory of playing the most isolated position on defense, by far, causing any mistake made, real or perceived, to be seen by even the most casual fan.

"It's not easy, and there's always people who may be saying stuff, but it's coming," Wilcox said of refining his ability to make plays on the ball when in coverage. "I never played corner before coming (to BYU), so it's a mentality you need to develop, but I'm definitely getting there and I'm feeling real confident."

BYU is typically a place where incoming cornerbacks are thrown to the wolves, many times earlier than is probably warranted respective to the individual player, but entirely necessary due to lack of depth at the position most years.

Such was the case when Wilcox took to the position in 2016, playing in 10 games and starting in two, despite his lack of experience. In 2017, the 6-foot-2, 190 pound Fontana, California product started five games and saw his share of both ups and downs.

This season it appears likely he'll get the starting nod from game one on, with coaches confident he can get the job done.

Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence in Wilcox was the move of last year's starting cornerbacks, Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner to safety. Both could switch back to corner if the need arises, certainly, although Wilcox is earnestly seeking to keep both at their new positions.

"Both of those guys are great players and it can really help our defense if they can stay there and we can get it done without them playing corner," Wilcox said. "So this offseason I've really pushed myself, knowing how much it can help our defense if those guys both move to safety."

Throughout drills, Wilcox has been consistent in his technique, although the biggest hurdle he has is making a play on the ball.

"I feel like I was always trying to play too cautious," Wilcox said. "Now it's about being a ball hawk. That's the focus and we do a lot of ball drills with coaches. You have to take more risks and it's just confidence and not being afraid to fail. But you also have to stay calm and not panic when that ball is in the air."

Helping Wilcox out is his position coach, Jenaro Gilford, who speaks positively of Wilcox's development.

"I tell him all the time that the defense is going to go as far as he can take them. I tell all my guys that, and Chris understands that and he's making good plays out there," Gilford said. "It's all about getting out of panic mode, and that's not easy. You just have to learn to play the receiver's hands and stay confident. Chris is getting there and I like what I've seen from him."

Gilford also likes the progress of senior cornerback Michael Shelton, who has seen a lot of reps with the first-team defense this fall and could start opposite Wilcox in the season opener.

"He's our smartest corner and our best overall pure corner," Gilford said of the 5-8, 170 Shelton. "I feel like he's poised for a real good year and I'm expecting big things from him."

Those expected to back up Wilcox and Shelton are Keenan Ellis and Beau Tanner, as of right now.

Also adding to the mix are incoming freshmen Malik Moore and Isaiah Herron, both of whom have provided good early impressions.

"They're further along than most freshmen were, back in the day," Gilford said. "They're coming along and I feel both those guys can help us this year."