NDSU’s ‘other cornerback’ having a breakout season

FARGO — It’s a badge of honor of sorts when it comes to unofficial titles with the North Dakota State football team. There are two cornerbacks on defense, with one of them being designated as the “shutdown corner.”
Marcus Williams was the master of the role in his time with the Bison. He is the program’s interception leader with 21. When Williams left for the NFL after the 2013 season, the baton to his role was passed on to CJ Smith, who took the job and parlayed it into his own NFL experience.
Smith finished his Bison career in 2015, handing off his role to Jalen Allison and for the last two seasons Allison has been the top defensive cornerback.
As for the other corner?
Jaylaan Wimbush doesn’t have any sort of cool title, but he’s been pretty good, too. And that’s fine with Wimbush, who says the role fits Allison.
“The film speaks for itself,” Wimbush said. “He gets the lockdown corner position but I like being the hard hitter. He’s more of the cover guy. I can cover as well, but I’m more of the down-and-dirty guy.”
Indiana State got an education on that last week. Wimbush was a constant thorn to the Sycamores, including a cornerback blitz that caused a fumble NDSU recovered. After just five games, Wimbush has registered something in a host of defensive categories: tackles, tackles for lost yardage, pass breakups, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
“He’s just understanding our defense so much better this year,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman. “He’s a confident guy and playing corner is a lot about confidence and making plays and he’s making some plays.”
That wasn’t always the case, especially early in his career. Wimbush said he wasn’t just lost in his early days of trying to learn the Tampa 2 defense, but it was worse.
“I was extremely lost,” he said. “Seeing myself now as to compared to then, I’d say I’ve done a complete 180 in learning the defense.”
Wimbush was a safety as a freshman, but switched to cornerback. Now a fourth-year junior, he’s got more on the plate being the “nickel” back in certain situations. When NDSU goes to five defensive backs, Wimbush plays more of an inside role on coverages.
Those days of going back to his dormitory room and trying to figure out the playbook are long gone.
“I’d stay up until midnight some nights just thinking about different ways to learn the defense,” he said. “I’d go home, just sit there and think, ‘Is this what I really want to do?’ They were hard times but as the saying goes, those who stay will be champions.”
NDSU will take its 5-0 record and No. 2 ranking on Saturday night, Oct. 14, to one of the tougher stadiums to play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at Youngstown State. In the Penguins, the Bison will see an offense that is more balanced than any of the previous five teams they’ve played this season.
Youngstown is averaging 268.2 yards rushing and 185.6 yards passing per game. That multi-dimensional look puts that much more pressure on a defensive back. At least Wimbush doesn’t have to worry about learning the playbook anymore.
He worked in the offseason learning different offenses.
“So that I can adjust to different offenses,” Wimbush said. “It took me a couple of years but once you learn it, it’s hard to forget it. Knowing what you’re doing on the field really helps. Just not having to think all the time allows you to fly around.”