- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
As a freshman at Lima (Ohio) Central Catholic, cornerback Darius West was a starter on the freshman team. After a few games, he was moved up to junior varsity and started there. And after a few more games, he was moved to varsity. And of course, he started there.
"We saw toughness from him, even as a freshman," Central Catholic coach Jerry Cooper said. "He didn't back down from our senior players. He was really competitive."
The 5-foot-10 cornerback had a nose for the ball and was the type of player that Cooper couldn't keep on the sidelines. Now as a sophomore, West is quickly becoming one of the top 2014 cornerback prospects in the Midwest.
Michigan has already been down to talk to Cooper about the speedster, and while colleges can't speak with players in the 2014 class until the fall, they’re keeping close tabs on West right now and have asked him to camp at Michigan this summer.
Even without any offers yet, West has created a top five of sorts, which includes Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Oregon. Without offers it's hard to create any list, but they're the schools he has had the most initial interest in.
He knows it's early to have a list and that several players don't even come out with a top five until their senior seasons, but it's all a part of his master plan which involves committing by the end of his junior season so that he can start studying his college team's defense a year and a half before he gets to campus.
"Once I commit, I want to have time to get really familiar with the school, the coaches, the defense, with everything," West said. "I want to learn their defense and everything they do. I'm not waiting until the end of time to tell people where I'm going. I really just want to get started as early as I can."
West has separated himself from other prospects at camps and combines so far this summer. Last weekend at the Nike Football Training Camp in Columbus, Ohio, he looked to be one of the more skilled corners. Earlier this summer at a Nike SPARQ Combine, West tallied an overall rating of 101.04, just three points shy of the nation's top score for a cornerback.
Cooper said his raw athleticism pulls West out of any crowd. With a 40-yard dash time of 4.63, Cooper has no worries about whether West will be able to run someone down in the open field.
"He just has an innate instinct as far as where the ball is at and where it's going," Cooper said. "He has a real good sense of how to play. Then couple that with the fact that he has improved his game by studying and learning from film and other great players. That just makes him a weapon."
Physically, West almost has the size and look of a linebacker. Teams in Central Catholic's league mainly run the ball so the coaching staff is at odds of how to use one of its best athletes.
"We want to be fair to him for where his future is going to be, on an island at cornerback or safety," Cooper said. "But we want to put him in the best position to make as many plays as he can now and sometimes that is much closer to the ball."
Right now, West is working on becoming what Cooper calls a "4-A recruit." The four A's are athleticism, ability, attitude and academics, both in the classroom and film room. Cooper said he believes West has displayed all four components early on, which will make him a valuable asset to whichever college lands West.
"I think I'm more physical than other cornerbacks my age. Most people really think I’m a linebacker when people look at me," West said. "But I know I need to break on the ball even faster than I do so I can make more big plays."