BLACKSBURG, Va. — Beverly Hosley lets out a laugh over the phone when the question is asked: How did the youngest of her six children, 20-year-oldJayron Hosley, transform himself from a smallish, oft-injured Virginia Tech sophomore into one of the nation’s top cornerbacks in a matter of weeks last year?
All it really took was a good tongue-lashing from his mother.
Beverly Hosley had planned to be in Blacksburg to watch her son play on his birthday weekend when the Hokies faced East Carolina last season. But just before she left Delray Beach, Fla., Hosley phoned to say he’d been suspended for one game after violating team rules.
He had broken curfew, and the coaches wanted to make sure he knew undisciplined behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. Mom decided to make the trip anyway and reinforce their message.
“I let him know the mistakes he made there at school, he wasn’t raised that way,” Beverly Hosley recalled this past week. “I told him: ‘We sacrificed so much. Don’t blow it.’ It got to the point where he was crying like a baby and he said: ‘Mama, I’ll make you proud. I’ll do better.’ ”
If what happened after that lecture is any indication, this family dynamic is the driving force that has turned Jayron Hosley, now a junior, into perhaps the most instinctive cornerback in a long line of great defensive backs to come through Blacksburg.
In his next start after serving the suspension, Hosley had a momentum-changing interception in the red zone during a 19-0 win over Boston College. The next week, he picked off three more passes against North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson, who once went 379 passes without throwing an interception.
Hosley finished the year with a national-best nine interceptions, including one in front of his family when Virginia Tech clinched the ACC Coastal Division title at Miami and another against Stanford’s Andrew Luck in the Orange Bowl. Hosley was named first-team all-ACC, and a few organizations tabbed him as a first-team all-American.
His rapid ascendance is hard even for Virginia Tech’s coaches to explain. Hosley isn’t the fastest cornerback or, at 5 feet 10, the tallest. But his reaction time is preternatural, something ESPN’s “Sports Science” tried to quantify earlier this month when it flew Hosley out to California for a taping of the show.
“You never feel you’re gonna get an interception,” Hosley said. “You just got to be in position, and when the ball comes, you’re either gonna make it or you’re not. My mind-set is I’m gonna make that play.”
Back in South Florida, that logic sounded familiar to Jeremy Hosley, Jayron’s older brother. He taught Jayron the game on the football-crazy playgrounds of Delray Beach, forcing his little brother to run through drills and scrimmages, often against his other older brother, John, and neighborhood children five and six years older.
“My little brother missed out on a father, so I was always trying to fill that void,” said Jeremy Hosley, 26.
According to Palm Beach County court records, Jayron’s father, also named John Hosley, served five prison terms between 1978 and 2006 for robbery, burglary and cocaine-related crimes.
“I did try to remind him about what my real dad told us when we were younger,” Jeremy said. “ ‘When the ball is in the air, it doesn’t matter if you play offense or defense. That ball is yours.’ ”
Jeremy played wide receiver at Atlantic High with Brandon Flowers and David Clowney, both of whom went to Virginia Tech and now play in the NFL. It was Flowers who ultimately told Coach Frank Beamer about Jayron Hosley during the recruiting process.
Jeremy “was always on me, around me like a father,” Jayron said. “Anything I needed or questions I asked or guidance I needed, I always went to him. He never lets me slack off. He always sends me messages and gives me calls like, ‘Are you working?’
“I can’t say it didn’t hurt me when I was younger because it was sometimes where I felt like I needed my father there, I wanted my father there. But I’ve got to go at life and develop and grow, and the people around you are gonna make you stronger. My family, they made me stronger.”
One season after Hosley arrived on the national stage, Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster talks about developing freshman cornerbacks this year, as if it’s already decided Hosley will enter his name into the NFL draft after the season. Most early draft projections have him going in the first round.
With that has come a new swagger. Jayron and Jeremy talk about the Hokies star getting 15 interceptions this season. Jayron Hosley concedes that perhaps it’s unrealistic, but “best believe when they come my way, I’m gonna be ready.”
Hearing that made Beverly Hosley laugh once again. It’s just another sign that her youngest child could be on to something special.
“They say the runt is the pick of the litter,” she said. “As far as our family members, that’s him.”