Virginia Tech defensive back Antone Exum made the move from safety to cornerback this year, and did quite well for himself, making the All-ACC second team. Exum led the Hokies with four interceptions and 15 pass breakups to lead the league with 19 passes defended.
I had a chance to catch up with him in a phone interview and discuss what disappointed him most about the Hokies' inconsistency this year, his position switch and the Russell Athletic Bowl matchup against Rutgers. Here is a little of what he had to say.
A lot of people have talked about your defense this year. Have you been able to point your finger at some of the problems that hurt you guys?
Antone Exum: We just weren’t consistent enough early on. Just as a team we weren’t on the same page with our best games, being on our A-game every game. So I think it just comes down to consistency. I think down the stretch we started to put together really good games, but for some reason or another, the ball didn’t bounce our way.
Did that come as a surprise to you that things didn’t click right away given the fact that you had returned so many starters on defense?
AE: Like I said, it definitely didn’t go as planned. We thought we’d be in a better spot right now as far as our record goes, as far as wins and losses, you just kind of learn from it as the season goes on and just try to learn from the mistakes. One thing I’m proud of is we continued to get better down the stretch. We improved on some aspect in every game. Hopefully we can continue to have that improvement versus Rutgers.
What do you think was the biggest difference toward the end of the season?
AE: I think guys just started playing more consistent and started making sure that everybody was doing their role, and trying not to do too much. We were just more disciplined down the stretch. With the talent we have on that side of the ball, if we’re disciplined and everybody does their role, we can definitely be one of the top defenses in the country.
A lot of people are already talking about the possibility of the bowl game being a defensive struggle. Do you think this game has the potential for that?
AE: I think so because they definitely have a stingy defense over there. We have a pretty stout defense over here. It definitely could go that way but hopefully it doesn’t. We’re confident in our offense. Just like our defense, they improved down the stretch as well. I’m confident they’ll come out ready to play.
You guys have an opportunity to finish with a winning record. Is that something that motivates you, to not be the team that ends that streak of all the winning seasons?
AE: Absolutely. The 10-win streak was ended this year. We definitely wouldn’t like more streaks to be broken. We won versus UVa so we could become bowl eligible, that was another thing that could have gone another way and changed the history. But we definitely don’t want to be that team that has a losing record. We will come out and play hard, and it definitely motivates us to get a victory.
What about for you making the move from safety to cornerback. You were a second-team All-ACC selection, tell us how you feel the transition went for you?
AE: The transition was fine. Maybe from an outside perspective looking in it was a little rougher at the beginning. But for me, it felt pretty smooth. I never lost confidence or anything like that. I come out with a swagger every game, and that won’t change. So I like the position, and hopefully I can continue to get better.
Which position do you like playing better?
AE: I can’t really say. Each position has its pluses. Safety is more physical, you’re involved in more plays as far as tackling is concerned, but at corner I really loved that one-on-one matchup, that me-versus-you-type game.
What do you think it says about you, being able to make the transition as smoothly as you did?
AE: I hope it says that I’m a very versatile player. A lot of people don’t know I played nickel corner my freshman year, so a guy who can play nickel, line up at free safety or strong safety, line up outside on the island and play corner. I will do whatever I can to help my team and my defense.