Mountaineers’ All-Decade Defense
Earlier this month, we started our series reviewing the West Virginia Mountaineers’ most recent decade of football. We started that review by naming our Mountaineers All-Decade Offense. Now, we focus on the other side of the ball. Here is our Mountaineers All-Decade Defense.
All-Decade Defensive Linemen
The goal of this list is to identify a total of eleven All-Decade players. We will also give honorable mentions to two players at each position group. We are dividing the numbers for each group based on the Mountaineers’ typical defensive alignments during the decade. Because the Mountaineers ran three down linemen the majority of the decade, we name three defensive linemen.
Reese Donahue has been one of the Mountaineers most consistent defensive linemen over the last decade. He made the Academic All-Big 12 First Team his final three years, and he earned All Conference Honorable Mention his sophomore season. Donahue carved out his role early, and he excelled as a multi-year starter. He finished his career with 106 tackles, eleven-and-a-half tackles for loss, and five-and-a-half sacks. A sure tackler, Donahue’s consistency earns him an honorable mention.
Similarly, Noble Nwachukwu offered a consistent, steady hand on the Mountaineers’ defensive line through the middle part of the decade. Nwachukwu had several dominant streaks on the field. His grit earned him All Conference honorable mention nods in 2015 and 2016. Nwachukwu finished his career with 117 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
With three years under his belt at the end of the decade, Mountaineer legacy player Darius Stills definitely belongs on our list. Stills is credited for playing in just 35 games over three seasons, but he accumulated 15.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and two forced fumbles during that time. Last off-season, the coaching staff told fans that Stills “hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can do yet.” In 2019, Stills translated that potential. He racked up 43 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, six sacks, and two forced fumbles. Even more, Stills showed he can be a disruptive force and vocal leader for his defense. His performance earned him a spot on the All-Conference First Team. Though his best is yet to come, he has already earned a spot on our Mountaineers All-Decade Defense.
Julian Miller split his time in the Old Gold and Blue evenly between two decades. In his junior and senior seasons, Miller tallied 111 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, and 15 sacks. He also forced three fumbles and recovered three fumbles, one of which counted for a touchdown. Miller finished his career tied for second all-time in Mountaineer history for total sacks. His name will likely stand in the top five for years to come. Perhaps even more impressive, however, Miller stands alone as the Mountaineers’ career leader in tackle for loss with 49. His disruptive play behind the line of scrimmage soundly earns him the second spot in our list.
Our top defensive lineman of the 2010s needs very little introduction. Bruce Irvin only played two seasons in Morgantown, but he definitely made the most of them. He earned a spot on the All-Conference Second Team in 2010 and the All-Conference First Team in 2011. In his first season at West Virginia, Irvin totaled 14 sacks, good for the third-highest single-season total in Mountaineer history. Irvin added eight-and-a-half sacks in 2011. In sum, he racked up 61 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles in just two seasons. Despite having a truncated career in Morgantown, Irvin stands at fourth on West Virginia’s career sacks list. Chants for “Bruuuuuuce” will not soon be forgotten by Mountaineer fans.
Next, we move on to the linebacker group for our Mountaineers All-Decade Defense. Because the Mountaineers marched out three linebackers for much of the decade, we cap our list at three.
Jared Barber contributed big things to the Mountaineers during his career, especially in his final two years during Big 12 play. Barber really came to life his junior year, when he erupted for 71 tackles with five behind the line of scrimmage. After suffering a season-ending injury prior to the 2014 season, however, Barber came back for a strong senior season that saw him add 64 tackles and eleven tackles for loss to his totals. Barber’s strong work ethic and all-around play helped West Virginia improve its defense fairly dramatically his senior season.
Arguably, Najee Goode could supplant our third linebacker on our Mountaineers All-Decade Defense. In his junior year, Goode had a breakout season, finishing just shy of fifty tackles, with three sacks and eight-and-a-half tackles for loss. This smashed his prior career highs of 12-0-0, respectively. Then, Goode fought even harder his senior season. He finished with 87 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. An instinctive all-around linebacker, Goode made his presence known. His 2011 season earned him a spot on the All-Conference First Team.
Like Goode, Al-Rasheed Benton really broke out in his junior season, where he tallied 80 tackles, one tackle for loss, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Benton was a spectacular run-stopper by this point, but he had not yet found his footing as outright disruptor. In 2017, however, that changed. Benton racked up 110 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. Despite these totals, Benton did not receive the post-season award recognition he deserved. He did, however, get an honorable mention for the All-Conference team in 2016.
The next player on our list, Nick Kwiatkoski , invites no controversy. Kwiatkoski made an early impact in Morgantown, eclipsing 85 tackles each of his final three seasons. He added over ten tackles for loss in both of his final two seasons. And he tallied three interceptions in each of his sophomore and senior seasons. Kwiatkoski certainly fit the bill as an all-around linebacker threat, disputing both the run and pass game. As a result, he earned honorable mentions for both the 2013 and 2014 All-Conference Teams. Also, he earned an All-Conference first team nod in 2015. He finished his career with 295 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, and six interceptions.
Impressive as Kwiatkoski was during his career, David Long simply played on a different level. Long earned an honorable mention for Big 12 newcomer of the year in his redshirt freshman season. And after two storybook seasons in 2017 and 2018, Long finally earned recognition as the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. Long erupted for 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks that season. He likely would have finished in the top five on the Mountaineers’ career tackles list had he returned for his senior season, but he chose to forgo his final year and enter the NFL draft. Nonetheless, he finished his career with 39.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. The former makes him tied for third for tackles for loss in Mountaineer history, and second for Mountaineer linebackers only to Grant Wiley.
Next up, we focus on the cornerback position for our Mountaineers’ All-Decade Defense. Based on the Mountaineers’ standard defensive sets during the decade, we only name two cornerbacks to our list.
Terence Garvin never earned the post-season recognition he likely deserved, but his versatility simply cannot go unnoticed. While excellent in coverage, Garvin wasn’t quite the ball hawk that some of the other names in our All-Decade secondary were. That said, he still had a hand in six turnovers over his career while adding 21.5 tackles for loss and ten-and-a-half sacks.
Daryl Worley, on the hand, was not nearly as disruptive in the backfield, but he accumulated turnovers at an outstanding pace. He contributed to 13 turnovers over his three years in Morgantown, nabbing a career-high six interceptions his junior year. He earned All-Conference first team honors in 2015 after getting an honorable mention in 2014. Were our list expanded, Worley would definitively have made the cut, but, as it stands, he is just shy of making our top two All-Decade cornerbacks.
Keith Tandy earned All-Conference first team honors in both 2010 and 2011 as Tandy really hit his stride beginning with his junior season. In 2010, Tandy grabbed six interceptions and defended 11 passes. He also added a forced fumble. In 2011, Tandy tallied four interceptions and defended nine passes. In total, Tandy finished his career with 188 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 13 interceptions, 20 passes defended, and a forced fumble. He disrupted the passing game in countless ways. As a result, Tandy edged out Worley for our All-Decade Defense.
While Tandy had a longer career in Morgantown, we ultimately favored Rasul Douglas based on his monster 2016 season. He proved to be a sure tackler in the secondary and helped in both pass coverage and run support. But Douglas came to Morgantown as a known ball hawk, and he proved his four-star billing his senior season. In 2016, Douglas tallied eight interceptions, returning one for an interception. He led both the Big 12 and NCAA in that category. In Mountaineer history, only Aaron Beasley had more single-season interceptions that Douglas. Indeed, Douglas’ 2016 season was one for the history books. His performed earned him a spot on the All-Conference first team. Douglas also nabbed an honorable mention for defensive player of the year in 2016.
Finally, and again based on the Mountaineers’ standard defensive set for the majority of the 2010s, we add three safeties to our All-Decade Defense.
Dravon Askew-Henry joined the Mountaineers in 2014, and he made an immediate impact. As a true freshman, he totaled two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He provided solid coverage, and added 37 tackles with one behind the line scrimmage. That season, Henry earned Freshman All-American honors. Henry emerged as a vocal leader of the defense in 2015. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury before his junior season and missed 2016 as a result. Upon returning in 2017, Henry looked hesitant, perhaps resulting from lingering doubts over the strength of his knee. But in 2018, Henry adjusted to a new role and earned an honorable mention for that year’s All-Conference team.
K.J. Dillon played the role as a hard-hitting hybrid safety for the Mountaineers his entire career in Morgantown. He broke out, however, in his junior season, when he went off for 57 tackles, seven-and-a-half tackles for loss, three interceptions (one for a touchdown) and six passes defended. Dillon maintained his vital role and steady contribution to the Mountaineers’ defense during his senior season. That year, he found a spot on the All-Conference second team.
Best remembered for his 99-yard fumble recovery against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Darwin Cook had a solid career in Morgantown. In that 2011 season, Cook tallied 85 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recovering (including the aforementioned 99-yard scoop-and-score). He added to his totals over the next two seasons and finished his career with a solid 243 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, seven interceptions, five fumble recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns. He finally earned a spot on the All-Conference Second Team in his senior season.
The last of the trio of Whites to transfer to West Virginia from Lackawanna College, Kyzir played only two seasons but shined in both. He specialized in disrupting opposing offenses in the backfield, totaling 14.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his two-year career. White also added three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and four forced fumbles during that time. Most of all, though, Kyzir added a hard-nosed edge to a Mountaineer defense that really needed one after struggling in West Virginia’s first few years in the Big 12 conference. White’s performances earned him an honorable mention for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2016 and a spot on the All-Conference Second Team in 2017.
Last, but certainly not least, we add Karl Joseph’s name to our Mountaineers All-Decade Defense. Joseph’s number was called early and often his freshman season. He responded with 104 tackles, seven tackles for loss, a sack, and two interceptions. Joseph earned an honorable mention for the All-Conference team in 2012. He again earned an honorable mention for the All-Conference Team in 2013. Finally, Joseph earned a spot on the All-Conference First Team in 2014. Joseph’s 2015 season saw him on numerous pre-season watch lists, a testament to his growing reputation across college football. Through four games, Joseph totaled 20 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, an incredible five interceptions, and one fumble recovery. Unfortunately, Joseph suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice that iced his record-setting pace. Nonetheless, those four games alone earned Joseph yet another honorable mention for the All-Conference team.