EAST LANSING, Mich. – Being out on an island in the Michigan State defense has nothing to do with Hawaii or the Florida Keys.
That island is a figurative place where cornerbacks must be able to handle one-on-one coverage of top receivers. Their ability to thrive in that challenge allows safeties to get more involved in stopping the run or picking up tailbacks and tight ends running routes.
Trae Waynes, a redshirt sophomore, is the latest islander for the Spartans. He stepped up to the challenge of starting in place of injured senior Johnny Adams in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and has been named a starter for 2013.
“He had the opportunity in the bowl game to start and played most of the game and did a tremendous job,” said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. “He had an outstanding spring. He’s long, he’s got tremendous ball skills. He’s got skills and could be a receiver.
“I’m not going to say who the fastest guy is on our team, but he’s in there. He’s in the 4.3s (seconds for 40 yards) consistently, which is something. I’m almost trying to slow the clock down on him. But he is fast. He can jump. He’s a 37-inch vertical jump guy.
“So, he’s got a lot of skills. What he needs is experience, and what he needs to do is take those habits that he’s developing now and take them on to the field and be successful. But I really like where he’s at, and I think he’ll have a breakout season for us.”
Dantonio and most coaches generally temper compliments for new starters, but he didn’t feel the need to hold back on Waynes. Dantonio is convinced he has another great cornerback. Adams and returning starting cornerback Darqueze Denard did well on their islands last year. Both were first team All-Big Ten selections by conference coaches.
“We’ve really got to trust our corners,” said Spartans All-Big Ten first team middle linebacker Max Bullough. “They’re always one-on-one, and we need to trust them for our defense to work. Trae and Darqueze have our trust.”
They’re a confident corner duo, having created a Twitter #NoFlyZone hashtag to stress that they aren’t going to allow friendly skies for quarterbacks and receivers.
“There’s going to be a lot to be seen from Trae,” Bullough said. “The sky’s the limit for him. Sometimes it just clicks in a guy’s mind, and he’s got it.”
Waynes, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, wants to help uphold the high standards set by the overall and pass defense. MSU led the Big Ten in scoring, rushing, pass efficiency and total defense in 2012. The Spartans also tied for the most interceptions with 14 and led with the fewest touchdowns allowed with 10.
“We expect to be the best – better than we were last year,” Waynes said. “We want to get to the level we were at last year, and add on.”
Waynes, whose favorite player is recently-retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, brings a linebacker mentality and track star speed.
“I like Ray Lewis and the hard hitters,” said Waynes. “I played safety in high school (Kenosha Bradford) in Wisconsin because all the teams run the ball. After a shoulder injury my senior year, I switched to corner.”
He also batted .452 as an all-county outfielder, and finished third in the state Division I track and field championships with a 10.85-second 100-meter dash.
“He has great speed,” Dantonio said. “He’s gotten taller; he’s got very long arms. What we waited for was for him to sort of move forward.”
That happened when he got the chance in the bowl game – where he made three tackles and shared a sack against Texas Christian.
“He took off in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and hasn’t slowed down,” said defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett, an All-American defensive back and captain for the 1989 Spartans. “It was awesome. I knew it was there.
“Trae can be one of the best to come through here with his size, speed, toughness and ball skills. He’s got three more years to play here and can only get better and better.”
He’s a unique talent with a one-of-a-kind first name.
Waynes said, “I got my name, Trae (pronounced tray), because I was the third member in my family, joining my dad and mom.”
Now he finds himself on Trae Island.
“You are on your own out there at corner,” Waynes said. “It’s you all alone on another man, and you have to win.”