MORGANTOWN - There are few better stories in sports than those of redemption. West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy is a living, breathing example of how good can come from bad.
Today, Tandy is a senior star for a fast-rising West Virginia defense that is ranked 16th in the country. He's also the reigning Big East interceptions leader, has two career multi-interception games, and is and is tied for ninth place on the school's all time picks list.
Nearly two years ago to the day, he was the subject of some serious message board fervor.
West Virginia's Keith Tandy (8) pulls down an interception over Bowling Green's Kamar Jordan during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)
Tandy, then a sophomore, was beaten for a trio of long pass plays against South Florida and the natives spent the next few weeks questioning his credentials. Too many prep quarterbacks playing defense for the Mountaineers, they said.
While he was considered a fine defensive prospect coming out of high school in Kentucky, Tandy, indeed, made his name as a quarterback, where he set Christian County High passing records with career totals of 8,609 yards and 90 touchdowns.
What was he doing on an island against the likes of Carlton Mitchell and A.J. Love that late October night, other than helping then USF freshman QB B.J. Daniels introduce himself to college football in a big way?
Mitchell wound up with five catches for 132 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown with Tandy chasing behind. Love added a 69-yard reception with Tandy, again, trailing. Daniels finished with 232 passing yards and 101 rushing yards.
Tandy was down and out.
But he learned a couple of things that night. He needed to get better in a hurry. No one player can lose a game. His teammates offered immense support.
''That definitely helped me,'' said Tandy, who was selected as a member of the 2011 Jim Thorpe Award Preseason Watch List (given to the top college defensive back). ''When I got beat a couple of times, guys like Noel (Devine), and Jock (Sanders), and (defensive coordinator Jeff) Casteel all came up and were telling me to forget about it; it's going to happen to everybody that's out here playing. Just forget about it and grow from it.
''I think that was real big for me because I felt like I lost the game for us. Everybody just kept patting me on the back, telling me to pick my head up and make sure I get better the next week and make sure it doesn't happen again. So now I try to make sure I do the same to other people.''
You bet he does. Now a distinguished leader on the WVU defense, Tandy is the first to pick up a teammate who makes any type of mistake.
''We've all been there - well, at least I've been there,'' he says. ''It's going to happen to you, as long as you grow from it. You know what it feels like to give up a touchdown. It's not the end of the world. Now just get better from it.''
It's needed advice for a West Virginia defense that broke in seven new starters this season.
Against Bowling Green this season, Tandy had two interceptions and just missed a third. When that game was over, he wasn't talking about the two he caught. He was lamenting the one he missed.
If that's not enough, the next time the Mountaineers and Bulls played, Tandy had 10 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception. He was named the Big East's Defensive Player of the Week for that effort.
Oh, the big plays vanished, too. Daniels was held to 63 passing yards and 4 rushing yards.
So when Tandy says ''At first, you're nervous someone's going to get a big play on you. Then it happens. It's not the end of the world. So you have to relax a little bit the next time you're on the field'' - believe him.
Thin no more
The linebacker position was supposed to be a weakness for this season's defense, as J.T. Thomas, Anthony Leonard, and Pat Lazear all graduated and up-and-comer Branko Busick was let go. That left Najee Goode as the only returner with any big-time game experience, though Doug Rigg gained playing time as a true freshman. Redshirt senior Casey Vance, a Petersburg native, brought eight career tackles to the fray.
Josh Francis, a junior, transferred in from Lackawanna Junior College where he put up some big numbers. They've meshed, and redshirt freshmen Jewone Snow, who started each of the last two games in place of an injured Rigg, has emerged as a viable option. It was Snow's 83-yard fumble recovery and return that changed the UConn game. Suddenly, no one's concerned about a thin linebacking corp.
And the WVU defense is back in the top-20, a customary place under Casteel's guidance.
''When you replace as many guys as we did, you're going to have some growing pains,'' Casteel said. ''We just have to continue to get better. We've gotten better the last two weeks. We had a week off. Hopefully, that helped us, but we'll find out Friday night. I think guys are starting to settle into their roles.''