Defensive back continues to make strides as true freshman.
CHAMPAIGN — Brandon Joggerst hasn’t had much time to concern himself with college football.
Mind you, the O’Fallon High School football coach still would like to focus his time on the Panthers. But a first-round loss to Neuqua Valley and future Illinois wide receiver Mike Dudek in a Class 8A playoff game Nov. 1 permits Joggerst to scan a few college games on Saturdays now.
And keep tabs on former Panthers standout Darius Mosely, a player Illinois fans are starting to notice more and more with each passing Saturday.
“I thought going into college his football IQ was very high,” Joggerst said. “He definitely could speed the learning curve up a bit. He’s one of the brightest we’ve had here. Going in and making an impact in the Big Ten as a true freshman is tough to do, but he’s showing that he can.”
Mosely is far from a finished player. Far from an All-Big Ten player. He has made mistakes this season. Will continue to make mistakes. After all, he’s a true freshman cornerback in the Big Ten and has faced players this season who began their college career before Mosely played a snap of varsity football at O’Fallon.
“I think when I see the years they were born, and I can actually remember what I was doing in those years, it’s strange,” Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “It makes me feel a lot older than I probably should. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how old he is. He’s been helping us out there on the field and really been doing a good job.”
Mosely turned 19 on Sept. 15, the day after Illinois lost to Washington. But he already has been on the Illinois campus for nearly a year. Enrolling early and taking part in spring practices benefited the development of the cornerback, who has started the last two games in place of injured V’Angelo Bentley. But the head start didn’t necessarily guarantee Mosely early playing time. He had to earn that himself. Which he has.
“It helps you learn the scheme (by enrolling early), but when you play the position he plays, just getting in the game and going against the different level of wideouts and athletes he’s going to see week in and week out, there’s no substitute for just getting out there and doing it,” Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “The fact that he’s been able to play a lot of reps slowly but surely during the course of the year is starting to pay dividends right now.”
Mosely — who has 20 tackles, one fumble recovery, one pass breakup and one pass deflection — almost didn’t graduate early from O’Fallon. But when former Illinois cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale informed Mosely that another Class of 2013 cornerback recruit, Dillan Cazley of Charleston, was set to arrive on campus a semester early, he began the process.
“I told (Clinkscale) I wasn’t and told him I was going to stick it out and just enjoy my second semester of high school,” Mosely said. “One semester I had seven or eight classes, so I had an early class where I would wake up around 6 and then go to class. My senior year, to actually graduate, I had to take two English classes in one semester.”
Bentley might start this afternoon at Indiana, having recovered from a left ankle sprain that kept him out of most of the Wisconsin loss and the last two games against Michigan State and Penn State. Mosely is the starting nickelback for Illinois when Tim Beckman wants to employ the look that uses five defensive backs on the field at once. Even with Bentley working his way back into the rotation, Mosely still could see his fair share of snaps.
Mosely had a top-five list of schools that may have paled in comparison to Illinois. Arizona State, Iowa, Michigan State and Vanderbilt were the other programs he seriously considered. The News-Gazette All-State first-team selection last year as a wide receiver chose Illinois for three reasons. Academics. The chance to play early. And proximity to his hometown, which sits a half-hour outside of St. Louis.
“I’m trying to represent southern Illinois in a positive way,” Mosely said.
He did at Penn State. On consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter with Illinois clinging to a 17-14 lead, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw passes in Mosely’s direction. Both times Mosely had man coverage on Penn State wide receiver Brandon Felder. Both times the ball was in the end zone. If Felder makes the catch, no way Illinois forces overtime. But Mosely did what Beckman stresses all the time: make a play.
“That’s part of being a corner,” Beckman said. “That’s part of being a freshman. We talk about it every day in that meeting room. It’s just something that you have to live up to. That’s the unique thing about playing that position.”
Beckman, who coaches the Illinois cornerbacks, likes certain aspects of Mosely’s game. Wants to see improvement in certain areas, too.
“He has great quickness,” Beckman said. “He can play press man (coverage). What he needs to work on is being more of a physical presence out there. We talk all the time about playing a physical game. His upside, though, and for a freshman to come in and play like he’s been playing, has been outstanding.”
Not bad for a player who didn’t play much defense his senior year at O’Fallon. He had a breakthrough junior year on defense, intercepting four passes and returning three of those for touchdowns. Joggerst primarily used Mosely as a wide receiver in 2012, when Mosely had 1,126 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We were trying to limit our two-way kids,” Joggerst said. “I think in his mind, he always wanted to be on the defensive side of the ball.”
When Beckman is recruiting a two-way starter in high school who could easily play on either side of the ball in college, the choice about where to play them comes down to need. A dearth of cornerbacks made the decision to put Mosely there an easy one for Illinois. It’s a decision that has received encouraging early returns.
“I think he can play any skill position we ask him to just on how athletic he is,” linebacker Jonathan Brown said. “I think he grew up a little bit (at Penn State). It’s kind of like a guy maturing before your eyes. That’s where he is right now.”
Darius Mosely isn’t the only Class of 2013 recruit Tim Beckman signed who is seeing early playing time. Here are five other true freshmen Illinois has utilized often this fall:
1. Aaron Bailey. Bolingbrook stud didn’t play at Penn State, first time the dual-threat QB hasn’t taken at least one snap in a game this year.
2. Jarrod Clements. Nicknamed “Chunky,” the Trotwood-Madison (Ohio) product has played in six games along the defensive line but didn’t make the trip to Penn State.
3. Caleb Day. Four-star recruit from Hilliard (Ohio) Darby High School, Day has seen action at cornerback in each of the last three games.
4. Jaylen Dunlap. Former Crete-Monee cornerback has played in all eight games and has 18 tackles, two pass breakups and two pass deflections.
5. Austin Schmidt. Ohio native, Corey Lewis’ backup at right tackle, has played in six games and could potentially become a three-year starter before career ends.