Hickman: 3 surgeries later, Chestnut back in the mix

Defensive back Terrell Chestnut (16) warms up with his Mountaineer teammates before the start of a recent practice session.

MORGANTOWN — For a guy who arrived on campus three years ago with impeccable credentials and playing at a position of great need, Terrell Chestnut has had far too little impact on West Virginia’s defense.

Don’t blame him, though. Chestnut was damaged goods when he got to Morgantown and it’s taken everything he has sometimes just to keep playing the game.

“Yeah, I think there was a time when I was laying in a hospital bed after surgery and I was questioning whether I was going to play football again or whether I even wanted to put my body through it again,’’ Chestnut said. “You only get one body and at the time I was in that hospital bed I was 21 years old feeling like I was 50. It wasn’t a good feeling.’’

To review, Chestnut was a part of Bill Stewart’s final recruiting class in 2011, the same one where a handful of players have had an impact on the program (Jared Barber, Isaiah Bruce, Cody Clay, Dustin Garrison, Nick Kwiatkoski, Kyle Rose, to name a few) and those who never did (remember Brian Athey, Justin Johnson and twins Vance and Vernard Roberts?). It was a particularly distinguished class according to the scouting services, mainly two- and three-star guys.

Chestnut was an exception — a four-star athlete from Pottstown, Pa., who as one of just two cornerbacks in the class, was going to fill a need. That need would become even more critical a few months later when West Virginia jumped from the lumbering Big East to the pass-happy Big 12.

A funny thing happened on the way to Chestnut’s stardom, though. Well, actually it was a couple of things, but neither was funny. Asked to chronicle just what it’s been in terms of his injury history, Chestnut chooses to go the other way.

“What hasn’t it been?’’ he asked.

For starters, Chestnut arrived for his first summer in Morgantown in 2011 having only recently recovered from shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in high school. Or at least he thought he’d recovered.

“It must not have been fixed because almost right away, I tore it again,’’ Chestnut said.

That wiped out his true freshman season and forced him to redshirt. No problem. He bounced back the following year and, even though he missed the first seven games, began making an impact down the stretch. He played the final six games, includes starts at cornerback in three of the last four, as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

That’s when it hit again.

In the Pinstripe Bowl, one of those three late-season starts, Chestnut blew out a knee. His resultant surgery to repair a torn ACL kept him out of the first two games last season. And although he played in each of the final 10, it was primarily on special teams and only occasionally on defense.

Through it all, Chestnut has persevered. It wasn’t easy, but he’s learned to accept his fate.

“It’s just the cards I’ve been dealt,’’ Chestnut said. “I just had to deal with them.

“It’s a part of life. You never know what life is going to throw at you. It told me a lot about myself and how to overcome adversity. I’ve overcome a lot of adverse situations in my life before, but it was never like getting injured over and over again.’’

Now, heading into his redshirt junior season, Chestnut is where he thought he would be right from the start. With Daryl Worley firmly entrenched at one cornerback spot and Ishmael Banks apparently dealing with academic issues that could render him ineligible, Chestnut and Travis Bell are fighting for the open cornerback spot. By all indications it’s a dead heat right now.

“It feels great just to have my name called again,’’ Chestnut said. “It’s been two years since I really feel like I played.’’

If nothing else, Chestnut has a strong supporter in his corner in cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. Mitchell had his own injury issues while playing at BYU and again for three years in the NFL.

“When he first got here, we had that conversation,’’ Chestnut said. “He showed me his scars.’’

If Chestnut is looking for a spot to call his own in the West Virginia defense, there are plenty from which to choose. There’s the open cornerback spot opposite Worley, as well and nickel and dime coverage positions and special teams.

Getting to the point where he can once again compete for those jobs has been a chore, but three years and three surgeries later, he might be there again.

“Oh, yeah, I was very frustrated. I was coming out of high school, my head held high. In high school I was the man,’’ Chestnut said. “And then I was at the bottom of the totem pole and I was like dirt because of all the injuries.

“But being injured just makes you more mentally tough. I had to go through a lot of things and overcome them. I’m a different player and I’m a different person. I’ve grown mentally and physically. I continue to mature. I feel I’m wise beyond my years.’’

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

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