By James Butler
LOCUST GROVE Ga. – While a lot of talk about 7-on-7 summer football is geared toward the offense, the defensive back seven — and chiefly the secondary — gets to work on its skill and communication as well.
As a highly recruited cornerback, the thought of extra time to work specifically on his craft as a cornerback is music to the mind of Woodland senior Yusuf Corker.
“I really like the position,” Corker said. “You got to guard the best player, backwards. It’s really a good position. I train every day for it. I just really like the position. It’s the best position on the field.”
And the competitive factor that comes with 7-on-7s is exactly what Corker says he needs to help him prep for an upcoming season.
“You got to be ready to compete, even if you don’t make the play,” he added. “The next play just teaches you that, no matter how bad you get beat, there’s always the next play. You can always make up for it.”
Wolfpack head coach Steve Davenport is extremely high on the 6-foot, 175-pound three-star prospect.
“He brings so much to our [team],” Davenport said. “He’s the hardest working kid I ever coached in 20-some years of coaching. He’s what you want. Clone 21 one of him and I’ll take it, and go to battle with 22 Yusuf Corkers. He’s a tremendous student athlete who will do well on the next level.”
Being a defensive back is in Corker’s blood as his uncle Anthony Mitchell is a former defensive back out of Tuskegee, who played six seasons in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl title as a rookie with Baltimore in 2000.
“I look up to my uncle,” Corker said. “He also trains me, so I look up to him. I just try to be just as good as him or better.”
Being recruited by numerous Power Five schools, Corker will head to college with a bigger reputation than his uncle did. With the number of schools pursuing him, Corker wants to commit to a school before the season, so he can focus on his senior year of football.
“Right now I like Tennessee, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Duke, and also North Carolina,” Corker said.
He also said a decision might be coming shortly — perhaps even before the season begins.
“He’s a solid, strong cover corner,” Davenport said. “Those kind of kids with those bodies is what college football is going to with these tall receivers […].”
Corker was lined up across from one such receiver when Stockbridge eliminated Woodland from the Airo 7v7 Tournament at Warren Holder Park on Wednesday. The Tigers’ rising junior Marquez Ezzard was making tough catches throughout the two-day event, and is considered one of Georgia’s best emerging talents at wideout.
Corker and Ezzard played in the same region the last two seasons, and will do so again this season.
“They have a really good, competitive battle every time they see each other,” Davenport said. “I don’t really get caught up on who won [Wednesday], but they’re two really good football players. It’s really a treat to get to watch them go one-on-one with each other.”
Corker didn’t matchup with Ezzard much man-to-man as Woodland was working on executing the various coverages the coaches called.
“We work on communicating, make sure everyone is doing the right thing, make sure everybody has got the right coverage, and just focusing on doing your [job],” Corker said. “That’s what we’re focusing on. Also, building a team bond, and coming out here and competing.”
When it came to the defense, Davenport particularly used the 7-on-7 to work in some new faces in the Woodland secondary.
“We didn’t want to go and play a lot of man-to-man,” Davenport said. “We were working on zones. We got a couple of new safeties that we want to let get work on zone reads and route reads, and those kinds of things.
“You really don’t get to work on that if you come out and all you do is play man-to-man the whole time. We wanted to come out and show some zone.”
With Corker and rising-junior Shakur Brown, Woodland has the ability at cornerback to play man-to-man and handcuff opposing teams’ receivers.
“He and Shakur Brown, our other corner, give us what we think is an advantage at corner — being able to play man-to-man and do some other things in the box,” Davenport said.
Corker believes him and Brown make each other better players.
“He is also a good corner, almost as good as me,” Corker said while laughing. “When we sit down and watch film or when we are doing workouts we try to expose each other, so we can tell each other ‘You need to work on this or you need to protect your inside,’ so when we go against good competition we know what we need to work on.”
While Corker laughed at his friendly dig at Brown, it is unlikely opposing receivers will find anything funny about either defensive back when they line up across this duo in the fall.