They play on football island. That means everyone knows who they are and if, and when, they get beat.

Corners.  

Head coach Kalani Sitake believes his BYU team has a squadron of them, and he has faith they can play.

The position requires speed, quick reflexes, good vertical jumping ability, tackling skills, physical acumen, good hips, quick recovery skills, and the ability to forget and focus on the next play. 

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It’s a position BYU has struggled to recruit to over the years, but coaches have worked hard to target recruits that fit the specific standards of “must-have” measurables. 

Defensive backs are some of the best athletes on a football team, and BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford believes his group is the deepest in his personal memory, which dates back to 1996 when Omarr Morgan and Tim McTyer helped the Cougars win the Cotton Bowl.

That’s a broad historical statement.

But Gilford should know. He, McTyer and Morgan are among the best corners to have played in BYU’s program. They set the standard for what can happen when cover corners can play man press, disrupt the rhythm of receiver routes, knock down passes and get picks. 

In 1996, that 14-win team had one of the best defenses in school history.

If this is the deepest cornerback room, meaning not just body count in the chairs but quality and potential corners, that is news, a milestone for Sitake and his staff.

Earlier in fall practice, Sitake told reporters BYU’s corners were the fastest he’s had at BYU.

Gilford likes what he’s got in his room. He has four solid players, two-deep that he says are interchangeable and will play in every game. He likes the backups to those four, and he believes that position is fast becoming a strength of the team.

As of late last week, Gilford has refused to publicly name his starters.

“I have four guys who can all play. We can all start any game,” said Gilford. “The good thing is they are all confident competing with each other, love each other and they’re all confident of whoever is out there, so that’s a good thing.”

The possible two-deep includes Kaleb Hayes, D’Angelo Mandell and Vanderbilt transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally. Jakob Robinson and Jacob Boren can play corner, but are listed as nickel backs when the Cougars put five DBs on the field.

BYU just brought in Mory Bamba, a transfer from Tyler (Texas) Junior College, who runs a 4.34 time in the 40 and is 6-foot-3.

These backs have at least two required attributes under the guidelines established by assistant head coach Ed Lamb. They must have track speed and they must be tall — more than 6 feet.

Gilford said Bamba came to the Cougars after defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki found him in Texas. Bamba had received recruiting attention from Utah State and Auburn.

“Tuiaki went to Texas, checked him out and said he liked what he saw. He said he was a great person, and he loved his background and story. 

He was a fit here as far as off the field, which is the most important thing for us. From that point, his film checked out, he was a perfect fit, so we took him.”

Gilford said Bamba fits the mold in the room, guys who are 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2 who can run and make it hard to complete passes because they can put their hands in pass windows. “He has three years to play, so that’s a bonus.”

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“D’Angelo and Hayes have progressed and have experience,” said Gilford, who likes their football IQ — knowing how to position themselves, knowing how to read the eyes of the QB and be in place to make plays.

It remains to be seen how this “deep room” will contribute to the upcoming season, but in facing four nationally ranked teams, they’ll get plenty of opportunities to be on an island, exposed for all to see, good or bad.

Some have BYU’s schedule ranked the 13th toughest in the country, a ranking supported by a matrix created by Phil Steele.

If these corners step up and can create takeaways, it will go a long way in helping Sitake make a run as a No. 25 squad, beginning in Tampa Bay against USF on Sept. 3.

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