Like His Team, Virginia Tech's Jayron Hosley Turned His Season Around
The prized recruit spent the Hokies' third game perfectly healthy, but on the bench. Their young defense collapsed out of the gate against East Carolina, allowing 24 first-half points at home while the suspended Hosley watched his team -- winless after two games -- play.
When Virginia Tech faces possible 2011 No. 1 NFL Draft pick Andrew Luck of Stanford in the FedEx Orange Bowl Monday, Hosley will have a close view of the game, and the Cardinal's quarterback will surely take note of the cornerback's location. The film on Tech includes eight interceptions from Hosley, enough to tie him for most in the nation this season -- all coming after two losses to open the season and a one-game suspension for violation of team policy.
"I immediately seen the change in him," said Tech senior starting cornerback Rashad Carmichael, considered a big brother by Hosley.
"He started studying more, he started taking in the stuff the coaches were saying. The little things -- you see him writing more, just wanted to take advantage. The suspension was an in-house, an on-team thing, so nobody frowned upon him or anything like that, but he just took it upon himself to show everybody that he's not slacking, he's not a slacker. I think he bounced back the only way you could from that, with eight interceptions."
The most immediate effect was the inclusion of a key cog in Tech's green defense -- returning only four starters in 2010 -- that suddenly began firing on all cylinders. The Hokies shut out Boston College in Hosley's first game back.
"You feel like you owe them every game and every practice," Hosley, a 2010 Walter Camp first-team All-America selection, said. "(The suspension) definitely makes you get your mind right, and get your priorities straight. And everything you know you need to take care of, take of care of it, because once it's gone you can't get it back, so you know that's how I approach it."
Tech then survived a shaky start to overcome N.C. State in Raleigh with a comeback spearheaded by Hosley's three interceptions.
"It was just an unbelievable game because we were down 17-0 and we needed some guys to make some plays," Tech defensive backfield coach Torrian Gray said of Hosley's performance, which earned him the second-highest coaches' grade in Virginia Tech history. "But for the whole game, from a technique-focus-fundamentals standpoint, he was sound -- and that's what we hadn't gotten the first two games from him. He really hadn't put it together for four quarters, and he came up big that game."
Playing cornerback opposite Carmichael -- who was Tech's 2009 interceptions leader -- Hosley has continued to wreak havoc when the football zooms toward his domain, ranking sixth in the nation in passes defended (15) and 19th in punt return average (12.58 yards).
"He's just got a mentality," said Gray. "He really believes, some guys say it, 'You know if the ball's in the air it's mine.' ... I feel like I try to do things because I know he's got a knack for making plays, to try to put him in position (with different formations) or do something a little different just to give him a chance to see the ball and make a play on the ball."
That road win over N.C. State and mobile gunslinger Russell Wilson perhaps most aptly prepared No. 13 Tech for No. 4 Stanford and the nimble Luck. Hosley feels the biggest issue with defending these quarterbacks is not solely sticking with the receivers after the play breaks down, but often sticking to the plan.
"It's more a mental thing than a physical," said Hosley. "Being a good quarterback that (Luck) is, he can pick those zones, so you have to be disciplined, play the defense that's designed, do your part and everything's going to be all right ...
"I heard all the hype about him coming into this game. ... I'm not one that's big on hype and things like that, but I respect players most importantly. ... His ranking might put him above some of the other players, but I think we've played a lot of good quarterbacks."
For the third time in four years, a Tech defense hitting its peak collides head-on with one of the nation's top quarterbacks in the Orange Bowl. Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster remembers "it was a wholesale of new blood" at linebacker and secondary entering the season. Yet it produced much the same result of the past 16 seasons: an All-America selection on defense and talent, tutelage and camaraderie at the cornerback position.
Tech's 2007 All-America cornerback, Brandon Flowers, convinced four-star recruit Hosley that Virginia Tech would allow him to shine, and Hosley's relationship with the defensive backfield's 2010 leader helped him realize it in good times and bad.
"Every time Rock (Carmichael) is lifting, Jayron's lifting," Gray said, "Or Jayron's lifting, Rock's lifting with him and showing him how to prepare, go outside and do drills or things. Rock really from (this offseason) took him under his wing."
Said Carmichael, "He's a natural. One of the most natural instinctive players that I've seen. I learned a lot from him, I'm always trying to learn just watching his game. ... He's learned how to take advantage of opportunity. You can be the most athletic player, but he also learned that you can make more plays when you're studying, when you know what's coming up. He understands it now.
"I tell him, he's light-years ahead of me, and I think (Tech freshman cornerback) Kyle Fuller is light-years ahead of him. It's just going to keep on rolling: DB U, DB U man."