Confidence is certainly something Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum doesn’t lack.
Facing some early season criticism from both fans and media, the redshirt junior proved last Saturday he is capable of making the necessary plays for the Hokies to be successful.
This comes just a week after a rough outing against Cincinatti, when Exum was the target of scrutiny after he committed five penalties and was named as the primary reason for Bearcat’s receiver Kenbrell Thompkin’s big day. Despite Thompkin’s success, Exum says he never lost composure.
“I feel very comfortable out there,” he said. “I wasn’t discouraged or anything from the performance.
“I felt like I fought and they, I don’t know, they just got the best of us that day.”
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster was one of the first ones to come to Exum’s defense after the performance saying that the cornerback “played his (butt) off.”
The position isn’t one that Exum is completely familiar with though.
In his first two years Exum was primarily a free safety for the team, while also filling in as a nickel back in passing situations. In 2011, he started all fourteen games and led the team in tackles with 89. He was named honorable mention All-ACC and appeared to be in line as one of the great Hokies safeties behind Kam Chancellor and Eddie Whitley.
However, in the offseason, the coaching staff decided some changes were going to be necessary in the secondary following the losses of Whitley and All-American cornerback Jayron Hosley to the NFL.
The coaching staff moved former cornerbacks Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett to the safety positions and put Exum alongside Kyle Fuller at cornerback. This move puzzled fans at first and had many questioning the move after the performance against Cincinnati.
In last week’s matchup vs. North Carolina, Exum proved his worth with his play on the field.
The Tarheels attempted to pick on Exum from the beginning of the game, but the cornerback stepped up big with four tackles and two pass breakups. Despite the struggles from the defensive unit as a whole, Exum shined as the lone bright spot.
Now, Exum is trying to figure out what has happened to his experienced defense coming off a game in which they allowed 533 yards of offense.
“I never thought we would be considered an average team by any means,” Exum said. “That’s not what we’re about.”
The struggles have often been linked to the lack of execution on small things the coaching staff believes will come together eventually. Exum, however, is sick of the small miscues and believes the unit just needs to finally click as one.
“You say, ‘They’re minor things, they’re minor things,’” Exum said. “But too many minor things add up to something major.”
Exum says the team has placed more of an emphasis on wrapping up in practice, but he has also tried to help by improving the attitude in the locker room.