NEW ORLEANS — Blake Countess’s early success with the Michigan football team can be attributed to six Ps: Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.
Ever since Countess was little, participating in gymnastics and karate as much as football, his dad has repeated the mantra. By the time he got to Ann Arbor this season, it was the piece of advice that has stuck with the freshman cornerback more than anything else.
Whatever preparation Countess did before coming to Michigan has paid off. If Countess continues on his upward trajectory and becomes a top collegiate cornerback, tales of his first fall camp will continue to be told.
“It was his consistency,” said redshirt junior Kenny Demens. “He would maybe have a great play against (fifth-year senior wide receiver) Junior (Hemingway), come back maybe four plays later, make a great play on (senior) Martavious Odoms, a great, quick receiver.
“I said, ‘Wow. Blake is ready. Blake is good. Blake is going to be a good DB here one day.’ ”
By the time the team broke camp, Countess knew he was going to play. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said it took “about one play” to trust Countess enough to put him on the opposing team’s top receiver.
Mattison has been coaching in college and the NFL for the past 35 years. He’s seen how the best players prepare. But there was something else in Countess that caught his eye.
“You can tell if a guy kind of has it,” Mattison said. “And one thing about corners that have a chance to be really good: They have a very, very short memory.
“Their conscience isn’t very good, because just about the time in practice where you’re yelling at a young man for not doing what he’s supposed to be doing, he’s already forgot what you just said and he’s ready to play the next play.”
Countess took the advice his dad gave him. The words have resonated with him in every aspect of his athleticism. He said his gymnastics background, which he quit around in the fourth grade, has helped with his hip movement and balance.
But, perhaps more than anything, the reason Countess has had so much success early on may be the demeanor Mattison touched on. He’s quick with a smile and answers reporters’ questions smoothly, never too excited but always in control. It’s a comfort level that never seems to go away, even as he moved from Owings Mills, Md. to Ann Arbor.
“I don’t think I ever felt like a freshman,” Countess said. “Coming in I felt like I had to work. Some of the older guys remind you that you’re a freshman but I came in and it was fun.”
His traits are perfectly suited for the position.
“He has that swagger,” Demens said. “He has that confidence and that’s key to playing cornerback. Those guys can get exposed easily but I feel like he doesn’t get discouraged and that’s huge for playing that position.”
Countess will need to bring all of it to the table in the Sugar Bowl. At 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, he will face a receiving corps whose top three receivers average 6-feet-4 and 214 pounds. Countess matched up with the Marvin McNutt (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) for a large portion of the Wolverines’ matchup with Iowa — McNutt had 101 yards receiving.
Throw in that Countess is still a true freshman and he becomes likely target for an offensive gameplan. The corner said he noticed teams taking shots at him a little bit during the regular season.
“Obviously, you look at those things,” said Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain. “Anytime you’re game-planning you’re trying to find a weakness somewhere. I’m not saying he is a weakness but you’re always trying to find a weakness, whether it is a defensive end, linebacker, safety, and if you can ever pinpoint that then you try to utilize that in some sort.
“But we won’t go into the ballgame attacking that young man. We won’t win the game trying to attack him.”
Apparently, though, he doesn’t play like a freshman.