MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — During his last trip to the Georgia Dome, Jeremy Tyler stood out among the waves of Division I talent by making an interception in the 2012 Georgia High School all-star game.
So if he picks off a pass against No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, the West Virginia safety joked, “It won’t be any big deal, because I’ve been there before.”
Tyler is one of four Georgia natives on the Mountaineers roster—all of whom attended high school within an hour’s drive of the dome and all of whom figure to carry crucial responsibilities in the season opener.
Senior Mario Alford is starting at outside receiver, junior linebacker Edward Muldrow shapes up as one of the team’s top pass-rushers, and John DePalma’s long snaps will trigger punts and field-goal attempts.
Then there’s Tyler, a promising sophomore who’s battling promising freshman Dravon Henry for the starting assignment at free safety.
“When Saturday comes I just want to be out there with my teammates and ball for them,” he said.
Tyler admitted this week he was still trying to procure enough tickets for family and friends in the Atlanta area. Whatever the size of his contingent, he anticipates a memorable day.
“To open up with your first game in your home state and with your family there supporting you, it’s going to to be great feeling,” Tyler said. “I’m just going to have to have sidetrack all the distractions and stay focused on my tasks.”
Despite uncertainties at quarterback, Alabama’s offense is flush with experienced skill players. WVU might not face a more competent group of receivers this season, and even that position takes a backseat to the Crimson Tide’s vaunted trio of running backs.
For a player like Tyler—returning home to the prideful, boastful, at times unbearable heart of SEC country—the matchup presents a proving ground.
“Coming into West Virginia I had a lot of SEC offers,” he said. “So that’s like a monkey on my back, to show them I can play anywhere I go.”
Alford can empathize. Exceptional speed won him a state championship in the 100 meters, but as a 5-foot-10 quarterback on his high school team, Alford wasn’t fully showcased to recruiters. He also was late qualifying, which led SEC coaches to delay their offers. By the time his grades and test scores were approved, he had enrolled at Georgia Military College.
Now, after two years at the junior college level and one breakout season at West Virginia, Alford gets a shot to unleash his speed against one of the SEC’s most heralded defenses.
“They’re known for winning championships and they’ve got that big name, so everybody’s like ‘Whoa, you’re playing Alabama.’ But I really think it’s young to be a great game,” Alford said.
“We’ve just got to line up and do it. I guess they’re inexperienced at corners a little bit. I’m not talking bad about no one, but I just feel like I can take advantage of it and do what I do.”
Like Alford, Tyler sounds tired of hearing about WVU entering as a 26-point underdog:
“I think the world has counted us out, and I just want us to show that we’re really a great team.”