Sophomore Deven Drane became Exhibit A in the youth of the Bearcats secondary last year. On Saturday, he sits atop the UC depth chart at defensive back as Exhibit A for the benefits of the early exposure.CINCINNATI - Deven Drane thought the Bearcats game against Rutgers last season would be an enjoyable experience.
His mother and brother were coming to Nippert Stadium to see him in a college football uniform for the first time. For the then-freshman from Plantation, Fla., it felt like a special night.
"I thought they would see me standing out on the sideline," Drane said.
Sure, Butch Jones told Drane to be ready. He told Drane he would play against the Scarlet Knights.
"To be honest, I was like, 'OK, I'll be ready,'" Drane said. "But it wasn't in my mind that you are going in and you are playing the rest of the game."
The 18-year-old played in front of about 200 people for his high school games in South Florida - as a receiver. Only eight months prior, he had only an offer he had no intentions of accepting from Bowling Green as his collegiate football options. Only months prior he expected to be a greyshirt and wait until spring to enroll at UC to add an extra year of eligibility.
Yet, as the first half began in the highest-scoring game in Big East football history - an eventual 69-38 offensive bonanza victory for UC - Drane waltzed out as the starting cornerback to open the second half.
What a proud moment it was for the son of former Buffalo Bills defensive back Dwight Drane.
Then Rutgers WR Mark Harrison ran right past him.
One play, 15 seconds, 52 yards, touchdown.
"I thought they were just going to run the ball and we were going to ease into the game again," Drane said. "Next thing you know, I am backpedaling, I see a receiver going by me and I hear 'Ball!' I turn back and see the ball and him. I just said, 'Really? The first play of the half?'"
He can laugh about it now. Drane became Exhibit A in the youth of the Bearcats secondary and unexpected early exposure to college football. One year later, he sits atop the UC depth chart at defensive back as Exhibit A for the benefits of said exposure.
Drane competed with a flock of young corners and directly fought Dominique Battle for playing time this preseason. Even though defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs expects to rotate eight players through the defensive backfield, Drane will open the season Saturday against Austin Peay as the starter at corner.
Drane wouldn't be in his current position without watching the jersey number of Harrison sprint into the end zone for one of his 10 receptions for 240 yards that night. Nor would he be in this position without his only official start of the season a week later in Connecticut.
This trial by fire sparked a rapid rise.
"You put him on an island on coverage in a big stadium on a big field, I can't think of anything harder -- other than being a freshman quarterback -- than being a freshman corner," Coombs said. "He has really matured; he really understands what we are trying to do."
For now, the Bearcats are trying to erase the failures of 2010 and prove the adversity endured came with a valuable payoff.
"Maybe he wasn't quite ready last year - but it was what it was," Jones said. "We're asking a lot of him, not just for our defense, but on special teams as well. He's an individual who has a very large role in our program and he's going to see the volume of the different amount of roles he can handle and how he can progress."
Drane put on almost 10 pounds of muscle to be more physical at the point of attack. He knew his technique needed work. An offseason for the coachable sophomore resulted in significant improvement.
"He's a technician," Coombs said.
And now, he's a technician with experience to draw from.
"The biggest thing I learned was in high school you come from being the man to coming to college, everybody is the man," Drane said. "You are not the best player on the field now. You have to adjust. You have to get your technique down pat because ability just can't get you through."
Drane called his Rutgers experience "overwhelming." Jones doesn't need to worry about his starting corner being overwhelmed Saturday. The first play of the second half against the Scarlet Knights assured that.
"It's all good," Drane said, smilling. "I learned from it."
Bearcats are counting on that fact.