Corners always on edge
YOU don't want to play cornerback. Trust me on this. Last week June Jones said that corners get the same level of criticism and blame quarterbacks do. But where are the benefits? You never see cornerbacks deluged with endorsement opportunities, doing shaving commercials. Nobody in the history of the game has ever said, "Those corners. They get all the chicks."
(This is not to say that cornerbacks are not good-looking and suave. Just that they get none of the credit and all of the blame.)
And the pressure! Constant pressure! One slip and it's all over, and everybody knows. The whole stadium sees it. It feels like the whole world sees it. Like you're naked on the 20-yard line, and it's a long, long walk back to the bench.
"Oh, yeah, it's definitely on us, you know," Hawaii cornerback Abraham Elimimian said. "It's ... I can't explain it. It's just something you've got to experience for yourself. It's just you vs. that man, you know. All your help is up front, but you've got nobody behind you."
Nobody behind you. That's it.
Or as UH's other corner, Kelvin Millhouse put it, "If a cornerback loses his confidence, he's just out there by himself."
No, you don't want to do this. Nobody should.
YOU'VE GOT TO be kidding. They've got to be crazy. You'd have to be insane to thrive in a world where you have to run like a maniac and stop on a dime, where it's best to have no memory and no conscience. It's life on a tightrope, and you'd have to be crazy to live that way.
But they're not, Elimimian and Millhouse. They're ... intelligent. Thoughtful. Remarkably sane. Even when Hawaii blitzes and stuffs the box and leaves them out there to fend for themselves, with nobody behind. They understand.
"This year it's like, we know a lot of teams are going to try to run the ball at us, you know," Elimimian said. "And basically we have to take away one or the other, run or pass, so coach (Rich) Miano has told us we're going to play a lot of people in the box."
And then it's all on them to do the rest. And they know it. And this year, for as well as can be expected for the most part, they've done it. This week, at Texas-El Paso, they play a running team. And that's even worse.
"Oh, it helps you," UH defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa said, of leaving his corners to tangle alone against the offense's best athletes. "You can play more people closer to the line of scrimmage against the run. If you have confidence those guys can play, can shut down the receivers, then you don't worry about that. Otherwise if they're getting beat outside, now you gotta worry about how you're going to help them. Now that takes a guy out of the front."
So no help for them, at UTEP. If they can stop the pass, out there by themselves, then Hawaii will stop the run. So they're out there, naked and alone.
"It's weird," Elimimian said. "Because in practice we play a lot of zone, you know. But game time, for some reason the coaches always play man. So like, I don't listen about that zone coverage, you know. Because if you get your mind thinking you're going to play zone, you're setting yourself to get beat.
"So my game plan is I just think I'm going to play man, which we do regardless. At halftime you notice, we play zone first half, then all of a sudden just play man."
And they get beat sometimes. Everybody does.
"The hardest thing to do," Millhouse said, "is run with the receiver when he knows where he's going and you don't know where he's going."
But they do anyway, fearless and afraid all at once. It's a thin line, between confidence and fear, and it snaps easily. Millhouse looks at this position of fast-twitch fibers and says, "A lot of it has to do with 'mental.' " Elimimian, like a streak shooter who needs a free throw to get started, will throw himself into contact, will go after a routine tackle in order to get himself back into that groove.
They need that edge to be out there, one-on-one. They're on that edge. It's crazy out there. It's all on them, and all the blame is theirs for the taking.
"It's very scary," Elimimian said. "But yet it's exciting now. It's like a high."
Said Millhouse: "When you line up on someone, no matter who you're playing, in your mind you have to believe that you're better than he is. Even if you're not, you have to believe that you're better than he is."
Kalani Simpson can be reached at email@example.com