By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Two summers ago, he arrived at the University of Virginia on a track scholarship, a state-champion hurdler from Henrico High School.
By the start of the 2010-11 school year, however, Drequan Hoskey was on football scholarship at Virginia. And when UVa (1-0) hosts Penn State (0-1) at noon Saturday at Scott Stadium, he’ll be one of third-year coach Mike London’s starting cornerbacks.
“It’s happening fast,” Hoskey, a redshirt sophomore, said Wednesday. “Real fast.”
Perhaps that’s fitting for a player known for his speed. As a Henrico High senior, Hoskey won the 55-meter hurdles at the state Group AAA indoor meet and placed fifth in the 60-meter hurdles at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships.
In the summer of 2009, he had committed to the University of Richmond, where he planned to play football for London and also run track. But that December, London left to become head coach at UVa, and his successor at UR was not as interested in Hoskey.
“So that’s when I knew I had to buckle down in track and try and get a scholarship,” recalled Hoskey, a New York native who moved to the Richmond area with his family when he was 3 years old.
Hoskey had been struggling with the SAT, he said, but when his standardized-test score rose sharply during the second semester of his 12th-grade year, UVa offered him a partial scholarship in track, and he accepted.
Still, he hadn’t abandoned his dream of playing football in college. During a visit to UVa in the spring of 2010, he stopped by the McCue Center to talk with London and assistant coach Jeff Hanson, who had recruited Hoskey for UR.
The Cavaliers had not been courting Hoskey for football, but London and Hanson were aware of his talent, and they encouraged him to try out for the team that summer. And so he did. Virginia had not reached its scholarship limit for 2010, and Hoskey impressed London and Co. enough to earn a full ride in football that fall.
Cornerbacks coach Chip West’s initial impression of Hoskey?
“A very fast athlete,” West said, “an athlete that could run, but very, very raw, and very, very small. He’s done a great job changing his body, and learning the game of football also. He had to develop into a football player.”
Hoskey said he stood about 5-11 and weighed 160 pounds when he arrived at UVa in 2010. He’s now 6-0, 180, but hasn’t lost any of his trademark speed. He’s grown in other ways, too.
At Henrico, Hoskey said, he played man-to-man defense exclusively at cornerback. “It was tough when I first got here,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about Cover 4, Cover 3. I didn’t know what that was.”
West said: “He’s come light years from where he was two years ago.”
In 2010, Hoskey “was a track man that was playing football,” UVa defensive coordinator Jim Reid said late last season. “Now he’s a football guy running track.”
Actually, Hoskey is no longer a member of Virginia’s track-and-field team. After redshirting during the 2010 football season, he joined the track team in the spring of 2011 and competed in the 110 hurdles in three meets: the VCU Ram Invite, the ACC outdoor championships, where he placed ninth, and the IC4A/ECAC outdoor championships.
By his redshirt freshman season, though, “I started getting more into football,” said Hoskey, a psychology major, “and football started becoming more important.”
He misses track sometimes, Hoskey said, and may try to resume his career as a hurdler after he exhausts his football eligibility. But he doesn’t regret his decision to focus on one sport at the University.
As a redshirt freshman, Hoskey played in all 13 games for the Cavaliers, who finished 8-5. He was primarily used on special teams, but in Virginia’s Nov. 19 game at Florida State, Hoskey was pressed into service at cornerback after Dom Joseph suffered a hamstring injury late in the fourth quarter.
Hoskey figured the Seminoles would challenge an untested freshman, and he was correct. In the game’s final seconds, with UVa clinging to a 14-13 lead, FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel went deep.
Manuel’s target was wideout Rodney Smith, but Hoskey batted the ball away in the end zone with 14 seconds left, and the `Hoos held on for their first victory over the `Noles in Tallahassee.
“I just reacted,” Hoskey said. “I knew it was going to come my way. I knew they knew I was in the game, so I was just ready for it.”
His defensive gem, in a nationally televised game, elicited an overwhelming response from his friends and relatives, Hoskey said. “They just couldn’t believe it was me.”
Of Virginia’s top three corners last season, only Demetrious Nicholson was not a senior. With Joseph and Chase Minnifield leaving, Hoskey said, he saw an opportunity to start in 2012, “so that’s when I knew I had to buckle down and start working harder. I worked hard in spring ball, and I worked hard in camp.”
A hamstring injury slowed Hoskey during training camp last month, but he was cleared for full participation about a week before the Sept. 1 opener with UR, and he edged true freshman Maurice Canady for the starting job alongside Nicholson.
In the Cavaliers’ 43-19 rout of the Spiders, Hoskey made a career-high six tackles.
“He is at that point where now we expect him to play well, because he understands the defense and understands the expectations of him,” London said.
UVa started four sophomores in the secondary against UR — Nicholson and Hoskey at cornerback, Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps at safety — and is expected to go with the same group against Penn State.
“I think we all did pretty well as a whole [in the opener],” Hoskey said. “Now we just gotta keep growing up and continue to get better.”
For Hoskey, that means continuing to improve his technique.
“In my opinion, he hasn’t reached the tip of the iceberg yet,” West said. “I still think he has a ways to go, which is a good thing. His upside is good.”
A national television audience will get a look at Hoskey on Saturday against the Nittany Lions. That’s heady stuff for a guy who came to UVa not knowing if he’d earn a spot in the football program.
“It’s moving kind of fast, but I’m pretty excited,” Hoskey said. “This is just something I’ve always been waiting for. Now that it’s here, I’m just ready to do it now.”