The Seattle Seahawks started a new trend of developing bigger, physical cornerbacks that they call the “Legion of Boom.” When you’re able to have a long, physical cornerback — you can trust that guy going one-on-one with most receivers. It’s what helps the Seahawks survive in a simple, press-bail man scheme (not to mention their elite safeties).
In a pass-happy league, you can never have enough corners. Pro Player Insiders had an opportunity to speak with one who could fit the bill of that big, physical corner description — Virginia Tech DB Antone Exum. The 6ft, 213 lb defensive back is a highly athletic and versatile player who comes from a sports background.
“I grew up with both my parents,” said Exum. “I have a younger sister — she’s two years younger than me. She goes to VCU — she went to Virginia Tech but transferred to VCU. Sports family — my sister played tennis. My mom in high school ran track and played basketball. My dad played basketball, football and track. He was a basketball coach — a high school basketball coach. He coached me growing up in AAU basketball and recreational football. So I definitely have a sports backing.”
Besides being a good football player, Exum excelled in the class room. He has already graduated with a degree in finance and is working on a second degree in marketing. Placing emphasis on education could stem from his parents. “My parents have been most influential in my life,” he said. “Just because of their success. Both of them have doctorate degrees. Both of them have been real successful and done a good job raising me and my sister — providing for us. Whenever I need advice I usually go to them.”
Antone Exum was a three star High School recruit, according to Rivals.com. He was a highly regarded player with 19 collegiate offers. His athletic ability and versatile skill-set was so intriguing that Rivals.com labeled his position “athlete.” When it came down to choosing a school, Exum wanted the right fit. “Besides what the normal athletes look for in schools — well, the smart ones at least — I had about 18/19 offers and it came down to Virginia Tech and Penn State,” he said. “Penn State basically wanted me to play slot receiver and move me around a little bit. But Virginia Tech was giving me a chance to play quarterback or safety — which are the positions I played in high school. So I was more comfortable with that fit. I just had that gut feeling that Virginia Tech was the place I needed to be and I definitely think I made the right decision.”
After redshirting his first season at Virginia Tech, Exum played in all 14 games (starting five) at free safety for the Hokies. In 2011, he went on to have an All-ACC campaign playing primarily free safety. Exum led Virginia Tech with 89 tackles — posting 10 pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and an interception. He also proved to be a quality special teams player on both punt and kick return units. Exum fielded a consecutive All-ACC campaign in 2012, but this time at cornerback. The transition couldn’t have gone any smoother, as Exum had his most dominant season that included five interceptions and 16 passes broken-up.
Exum continued to set the standard for a University that prides themselves on physical defensive backs. “We’ve just been breeding dogs across the board,” Antone Exum said of Virginia Tech’s tradition at DB. “That’s just our style of play. I feel like we had the best defensive backs coach in the country — Torrian Gray. He’s been a big part in not just producing a lot of quality DBs, but developing us from the time we get here to the time that we leave — preparing us for the next level. There’s just a certain standard of play when you come here as a defensive back. If you can’t meet that standard, it’s simple — you won’t be on the field. We all understand that standard and we all understand that tradition. No one wants to lower the property value.”
I recall current Washington Redskins’ CB and former Virginia Tech great DeAngelo Hall call the school, ‘Defensive Back University.’ “We’re not always gonna be top 10 picks or top-ranked guys,” Hall told the Washington Post in 2010. “But at the end of the day, when we get in the National Football League, we make plays.” That statement is tough to argue when former Hookies like DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Flowers and Kam Chancellor are all playing at a high level in the NFL.
Antone Exum wants to continue that trend of VTech DBs having success on the next level. The big question is at what position? Many pundits believe Exum’s best fit is at safety in the NFL. Others see him having no issue as a physical corner.
“I think that I’m a big, physical defensive back who can tackle,” said Exum. “I also have a gift for man-to-man coverage. I can play press coverage, off… I can play zone. Really good ball skills. One of my main strengths is football IQ — being prepared for teams and knowing what I’m doing — how to anticipate a football. I feel like I have a knack for making the big time play at a big time moment.”
There’s no doubt that Antone Exum has all the makings of becoming a good player in the NFL. The only knock on the guy right now is his health. In 2013, Exum suffered a torn ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee while playing in a pickup basketball game in January. He returned to the field late that season, but suffered another injury — a sprained left ankle that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Exum says he’s ready to go and feels better than ever. If a team is able to get the player who fielded high-level play in 2011 and 2012, Exum could be one of the steals in this year’s draft. His size and athletic ability is sure to intrigue teams in need of a physical defensive back.
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