The best returning cornerback in Howard County wasn't even supposed to be playing defense in 2010. But as is so often the case in high-impact sports, one man goes down, another must step up and the next thing you know the injured guy is Wally Pipped.
That's basically what happened at Wilde Lake last year - and it spurred their state championship run. Heading into 2010, the Wildecats had an all-county cornerback tandem with Nick Pelletier on one side and Brian Anderson on the other. But Anderson tore his medial collateral ligament in Week 2, which forced the Wildecats to shift around their personnel.
In stepped junior Jordan Mynatt, who had played every position but cornerback in his short varsity career. Mynatt, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound "athlete" who came up to varsity as a sophomore, lined up at receiver on offense, returned kicks on special teams and filled in at linebacker on defense. His cornerback resume consisted of all but a few spot-duty assignments on jayvee.
"Jordan was a journeyman in a sense coming up," said Wilde Lake coach Mike Harrison. "I mean, we knew he was going to be special - the athleticism and skills were there -- but we weren't sure exactly where he would make an impact. We though he'd probably be a receiver, but when Brian went down we pressed him into duty at cornerback. There was no drop-off, and in fact it may have been a bit of an upgrade."
No knock on Anderson, but that's probably a significant understatement. Not only did Mynatt adjust on the fly, but he also led the county with four interceptions during the regular season. He was one of only two underclassmen defensive backs to earn all-county honors (his teammate Anthony Miller was the other).
"I didn't know anything about cornerback," Mynatt said. "The reads were different, the footwork was different, and the breaks were different. And you're out there on an island with a receiver. But I trained up, learned the techniques and I got used to it. I guess I did pretty good."
Yet another understatement. Mynatt shut down all-county receivers like Terrence Drew (Oakland Mills), Kyle Mitchell (Reservoir), Dequan Ellison (Atholton) and Tyler Anthony (Mt. Hebron). Although he rarely played press coverage and benefitted from over-the-top help, Mynatt consistently challenged his man, daring quarterbacks to attack his side with a deceptively loose style (think Champ Bailey, who specializes in off-man coverage). When a quarterback took the bait, more often then not Mynatt stepped in and made them pay.
"Jordan had four interceptions, but he could have easily been looking at six or seven with the way he played," Harrison said. ""He's such an athletic kid. One thing we always stress is that the hands don't make the plays, the feet do. He has tremendous feet in terms of getting in the right position to be able to make a play on the ball."
That's quite a compliment for a junior who wasn't even supposed to play defense this year. But Mynatt prepared himself by studying film every day and working with his defensive backs coach before and after practice. Then, during practice, he would challenge Wilde Lake's top receiver, Eron Pruitt, a 6-foot-5 Goliath who gave Mynatt all he could handle.
When he wasn't training with teammates, Mynatt made the trek down to Fort Washington, where he worked out with Joe Haden, Sr., who is the father of Cleveland Brown's first-round draft pick and stellar rookie Joe Haden, Jr. By learning techniques directly from the dad and picking up on tips from the son, Mynatt raised his game even more.
"I trained with [Joe Sr.] and I modeled my game after [Joe Jr.]," Mynatt said. "I watched his footwork and how he played receivers. He had great hands and he could lock down any receiver; he could tackle and he could hit. I'm trying to be like him when I play corner."
Mynatt did his best Haden impersonation during the Reservoir game in Week 8. Wilde Lake was clinging to a 13-6 lead heading into the final minutes, but Reservoir was on the move inside the Wildecats' red zone. The quarterback saw Mynatt one-on-one with Kyle Mitchell on the outside, so he threw up a deep fade in the back corner of the end zone.
But Mynatt ran with Mitchell stride-for-stride. He out-leaped him, made a one-handed catch, got his foot down in bounds and fell out of the end zone while clinging the ball to his chest.
"Jordan was always making plays. We trusted him to hold his own one-on-one," said Wilde Lake's top defender, linebacker E.J. Gilman. "As a linebacker, I never really had to drop back because of Jordan. I just held the middle down because I knew he had the back covered."
But before Mynatt could be considered elite, he needed to prove himself against the state's best offenses. (Howard County's vanilla schemes won't exactly be mistaken for a Texas Tech aerial attack.) He had his chance in the playoffs.
Against Damascus' high-flying receiving core in the state semifinals, Mynatt locked out the likes of Joel Ross, Brandon Phelps and Zach Bradshaw, a trio of Division-I receivers. Pelletier grabbed the headlines with two interceptions, but he benefitted from Mynatt's play on the left side.
"Damascus decided they didn't want any part of Jordan so they threw it to Nick Pelletier's side," Harrison said, "Nick made the plays, but Jordan was critical to our success."
A week after Mynatt helped Wilde Lake upset Damascus, the Wildecats took on Franklin's big-play spread offense in the class 3A state championship game. Mynatt had to shadow one of the top receivers in the state, the Indians' Ian Thomas. A 6-1, 180-pound dynamo who combined 4.5 40-yard dash with feather-soft hands and deft moves, Thomas ranked among the state leaders in yards, touchdowns and receptions.
"He was the hardest receiver I faced," Mynatt said. "I studied all week for him and prepared by going up against Pruitt, in practice."
It didn't seem to help initially. In the first quarter Thomas ran a little hitch route and Mynatt reacted too slowly. Thomas hauled in a touchdown reception that allowed Franklin to tie the game.
But after that reception, Mynatt allowed just two more receptions the rest of the way. (Thomas scored another touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Mynatt was not guarding him). He adjusted to Thomas' routes and went on to knock away a handful of passes.
"Jordan rises to the challenge all the time," said Harrison, who called Mynatt a Division-I caliber player. "Whenever we wanted to take out the other team's No. 1 receiver, Jordan was our option. He never once questioned that or shied away from it. He wanted it."
With another offseason spent honing his technique, working on his strength and improving his pedestrian 4.57 40-yard dash, Mynatt is primed for a breakout 2011. And maybe a shot at the top rungs of college football.
"I'm trying to take my game to a higher level," Mynatt said. "I think I can be one of the best corners in the state."