When any of the BYU football players stands next to Cougar freshman defensive lineman Motekiai Langi, his 6-foot-7, 385-pound frame tends to make them look small.
Senior cornerback Michael Shelton, however, looks particularly diminutive.
While he may be listed as one of the smallest guys on the team (5-8, 175 pounds), Shelton said he’s gotten used to drawing attention because of his size.
“You get teased a lot about it in multiple ways,” Shelton said Wednesday during photo day at BYU. “But you stick out as well. Although this is a team sport and I’m a team player, I also like to be different. In a way, this is my way of being different.”
Shelton has always been determined to not let his stature limit his game.
“The guys see me as one of the smaller guys on the team, but they know that inside is a much bigger person,” Shelton said. “As long as my teammates know what I’m capable of doing and I know what I’m capable of doing, it makes it easier to not take things personally when I’m getting teased about it.”
BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford said Shelton’s size hasn’t prevented him from being a tremendous asset to the unit.
“He has a heart that is as big as the Y on the mountain,” Gilford said. “His IQ is through the roof. He knows what he’s doing, knows his limits and plays the scheme well. I tell these guys that if they play this scheme, don’t worry about making plays because the plays are going to come to you. Mike is a guy who plays the scheme very well and when the play comes to him, he makes it.”
Shelton said he has a pretty good idea what a tall receiver is probably thinking when he lines up to run a play and sees Shelton on the other side of the ball.
“I love it when I get to go up against guys who are bigger than I am,” Shelton said. “I know what they are thinking already, while for me it’s a chance to show my abilities and how I perform against those type of athletes. I believe I turn a lot of the weaknesses people think I might have against bigger opponents into strengths. They will see a lot of that this season.”
The Cougar defense is currently relying heavily on Shelton and junior cornerback Chris Wilcox to perform and instruct a youthful cornerback unit on the edges.
“Those are the only two guys with experience,” Gilford said. “Those two guys are like teachers to the others. They are very important because they know the defense and can be where they need to be at certain times.”
BYU chose to move junior defensive backs Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner from their starting spots at cornerback to train them at safety, creating both openings and pressure for the rest of the group.
“This is an opportunity that you wait for,” Shelton said. “They say that when it is your time, be ready for it. I think this is one of the moments where the coaches have put their trust in the starters and backups. I think it’s a big step in their trust in the players, so as players we have to return the trust by doing what we are supposed to do.”
Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said he has been encouraged by what he has seen so far in camp from the cornerbacks.
“We have a lot of young guys that I’m really excited about,” Sitake said Monday. “I think they will come along. A lot of it depends on how our guys progress at cornerback and at defensive back. We have guys we can move back if necessary.”
If things stay as currently situated, Wilcox said he’ll be thrilled to be part of a secondary made of guys he’s worked so closely with.
“It’s a process,” Wilcox said last week. “The new guys are trying to learn everything. But with moving Dayan (Ghanwoloku) and Troy (Warner) to safety, with Shelton and I all four of us could be on the field now. I think that could be something special.”
Since BYU still has three more weeks of fall camp left, there is a lot of work still to do and the cornerbacks so far have been up to the challenge.
“I’m seeing improvement every day,” Gilford said. “They like to work before, during and after practice. That’s what we need to do to get better.”
For his part, Shelton wants to make sure the unit is disciplined and technically sound, but he also said he believes attitude could be the real key.
“We need to continue to play together and have fun,” Shelton said. “We need to be loose. Last year I thought we got tight as a unit and as a whole team. We got tense after a few losses but as long as we learn from that and play loose, we should be OK.”