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Mountaineer freshman corner is a late bloomer

MORGANTOWN - At first glance, Ricky Rumph might be one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet in college football. He ended a conversation the other day by thanking a reporter for his time, extending a hand and saying, "Nice to meet you.''

Really, now, who does that?

Then again, it's perhaps wise to put Rumph's summer of 2012 into context in order to fully appreciate why every moment seems to be a joy.

Two years ago, he wasn't even a football player. Two months ago, he had exactly zero Division I scholarship offers.

And now he's in the mix for playing time as a true freshman cornerback at No. 11 West Virginia.

"My coach always told me that God makes paths for everybody in different ways,'' Rumph said. "I just felt like he made a hard path for me.''

Indeed.

There are no heart-tugging tales in Rumph's story. It's not as if he grew up homeless or experienced a string of tragedies. Instead, it just seems that he's been late to the party every step of the way.

For instance, while most college football players have been envisioning their current lots since they were old enough to strap on a helmet for the first time, Rumph never even considered the possibility until he was a junior or senior in high school. Until then, he had visions of basketball stardom.

Then a coach at his high school in Daytona Beach, Fla., watched him play basketball one day and made a fairly obvious observation.

"He told me, 'Nobody wants a 5-10 point guard. You need to come play football,' '' Rumph recalls. "And at our high school, you really did have to be taller. Vince Carter played there. He set a high standard.''

So as a junior at Mainland High School in the fall of 2010, just two years ago, Rumph tried football seriously for the first time. Having to start basically from scratch, Rumph didn't even play that much.

By the time he was a senior, though, he'd completely given up basketball and worked on making himself a cornerback. Did pretty well, too.

Only one problem: His grades were lousy and his test scores worse. If anyone had a notion of signing him, that was the red flag that popped up. So signing came and went in February and Rumph was passed over.

He didn't give up, though, and in early June he got the test score he needed to qualify academically.

Again, though, one small problem: No one was waiting at his door.

"The only school that was hanging was Tennessee State,'' Rumph said. "And even they had backed off when it was getting closer to signing day and I still wasn't qualified.''

But then new West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest stepped into the picture, and he did so pretty much by accident.

"I wasn't looking for him. We were just out spring recruiting and his high school coach said, 'Hey, do you have any spots open?' '' DeForest recalled. "I watched his tape and just loved how he moved around.''

Rumph had had gotten that test score and might have been on his way to Tennessee State. But a guy who always seems to do things at the last moment decided he wasn't going to take his test score and jump.

"In the back of my mind I was always thinking, 'Let's see if anybody calls,''' Rumph said. "Because that happened to one of our cornerbacks last year. He got an offer from N.C. State at the last minute and I was kind of hoping I'd get the same thing.''

It did when West Virginia called and invited him up for a visit. The Mountaineers offered and it didn't take Rumph long to accept.

"I'm sure he was excited,'' DeForest said. "I know we were excited.''

West Virginia was in the market for a cornerback because the Mountaineers are thin at the position with only starters Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins having any experience. So right away, Rumph had a chance. He's competing with a handful of others - including fellow freshmen Nana Kyeremeh and Brandon Napoleon - and could very well see playing time.

"Ricky has shown a lot of toughness because he didn't know he was going to be playing for West Virginia two months ago,'' cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts said. "When you watch him on tape and in the meeting rooms, everything about his demeanor says he wants to come in and contribute early. We're going to continue to give him some reps and it's our hope that he can contribute early in the season.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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