By Gabriel Stovall
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — Yusuf Corker’s got a couple of standouts on his highlight reel already, and he hasn’t started his junior season yet.
It’s a testament to his talent, really — the fact that it didn’t take long to figure out that Corker was something special. College football blue bloods didn’t have to wait for a senior shift in mentality or maturation to make them come calling.
And if Woodland’s star cornerback turns out to be great in the legendary sense one day, people fortunate to follow his career from the first day on high school have already laid eyes on the plays that boosted Corker’s confidence to Division I caliber proportions.
“I’ve been playing football since I was little, but it was probably about my freshman year when I really felt like I could really do this in college,” Corker said.
Matter of fact, it was the first game in Corker’s first year of high school — a 40-16 win over Walnut Grove back in 2013 — when he first got to flash his considerable talents.
“I had two interceptions in that game,” Corker said.
But more impressive than that particular stat is the fact that Corker can rattle off the details of those two picks as though he’d just finished watching the two-year-old game film.
“On the first one, I read the first wide receiver who ran a hitch,” he said. “They tried to run out the tight end on a post corner route. We were in cover three, and I had my deep third. The wideout ran to my deep third, and I was looking at the quarterback and jumped the route and picked it off.”
Then, the second pick.
“They had three wideouts on the other side and none on my side,” Corker said. “They tried to slip the tight end on a post corner, and I jumped the route again.”
Pretty heady stuff for a then-freshman, huh? But it’s that type of cerebral heft that Woodland coach Steven Davenport says makes Corker incredibly special — and not just on the field.
“I’ll talk about Yusof the player in a moment,” Davenport said. “But he’s just a great all around kid. I’ve been impressed with him since the first time I met him. He works as hard as any kid we’ve got.”
That much was evident when Corker lined up opposite one of his teammate receivers during one of the last of Woodland’s spring football workouts. Corker stared at the pass catcher with an intent gaze.
And when Reid Larson — the likely starting quarterback for Woodland in 2015 — rifled a ball in Corker’s direction, the 5-foot-11 rising junior stepped in front of it and ran the opposite way, looking for blockers and trying to score as if on a Friday night despite playing on a field with no discernible end zone.
The list of Corker’s suitor schools is impressive. Georgia Tech, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virgina Tech, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Purdue.
Or as Davenport puts it, “Pretty much every NCAA school that’s come here to see him has offered.”
But Corker’s too ambitious to allow all of this early attention get to his head. He doesn’t site any pressure from the bright spotlight. Instead, the attention is spurring him toward higher heights.
“They think I’m good, so that just means I’ve got to prove it to myself,” Corker said. “And not just me. I don’t want to let my team down, this school down. Dang. It’s like, I’ve just gotta go show out and put in twice as much work and effort now than probably I have in my life. I can’t take a day off.”
Literally. During the school year, Corker leaves his last class and heads straight for the hurdles on the track. He puts in the extra work during that hour before football practice to help with footwork and hip flexibility.
Davenport remembers a time when Corker — who also ran track for Woodland and qualified for state in 400 meters this past spring — had a couple of days he could’ve taken off this spring. They were days when track wasn’t practicing, yet Corker didn’t see it as an opportunity to lighten up.
“Instead of going home since track wasn’t practicing, he went to the weight room,” Davenport said. “Just the way he handles his business on the football field, and his quiet demeanor is impressive. He allows us to shape the field in terms of our defensive strategy, and he’s come through for us on every opportunity.”
In fact, it is the “us” part that stokes Corker’s fire exponentially more than building his own reputation for his own success. Corker says no matter what the national pundits are saying about his skill set, it’s always the other 10 guys on defense he’s concerned with.
“I’ve gotta go out and do what I do because it’s not just me, but it’s my whole D,” Corker said. “I know that if I work hard, the whole defense is gonna follow after me. We’ve got other good corners on this team and other guys who are going to get some looks and offers too.”
His selfless attitude despite his eye-popping ability really falls in line with what he says is the team’s overall mentality — one that Corker’s defensive coaches express in a team-specific coined phrase.
“They say, ‘We’re all gonna get some. Everybody’s gonna get some. But not a lot. Just a little bit,'” Corker said. “It just means that there’s enough big plays to be made out here for everybody.”