Analysis: A closer look at new WVU football transfer portal commit Kekoura Tarnue

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West Virginia football had an exciting day on Saturday when it came to roster-building efforts, as the Mountaineers nabbed a pair of highly-touted players via the transfer portal. Earlier, we took a closer look at one of those athletes -- now, we take an opportunity to examine the second commitment of the weekend in former Jacksonville State defensive back Kekoura Tarnue.

Tarnue announced his commitment to WVU on “X” on Saturday. He originally hails from Monrovia, Liberia, but moved to the US as a kid. He played his high school ball at Coon Rapids High School in Minnesota. Coming out of high school, Tarnue was not on the radar for most Division 1 scouts, and ended up spending a two-year stint at Rochester Community and Technical College (MN). 

During his time with Rochester, Tarnue tallied 11 career interceptions and scored four defensive touchdowns. As a senior, he was an anchor on a defense that helped take the team to semifinals of the 2022 Minnesota College Athletic Conference playoffs. He was named a National Junior College Athletic Association First Team All-American in 2022 for a performance that saw him rack up 46 tackles and lead the NJCAA in interceptions (8).

He earned a Division 1 offer for the 2023 season and played for a familiar face to WVU fans -- he would be a member of a Rich Rodriguez-led Jacksonville State team that went 9-4 and earned a New Orleans Bowl win over Louisiana. He ended his season with 53 total tackles, four pass breakups, and three interceptions. He will have one year of eligibility remaining.

“He is playing a lot of roles -- corner, safety and special teams,” Rodriguez said last season. “He’s been an example of how to do it. For somebody to transfer in, if you want to know how you adapt quickly and make an impact, you follow what Kekoura did. It wasn’t just a time when he was meeting us. It was on his own, coming in on his own, learning on his own, all that kind of stuff.”

One of Tarnue’s biggest assets as a defender may be that he is a self-proclaimed film junkie that puts in the extra work scouting and preparing for what his opponents will likely throw at him -- it is a skill he found to be highly beneficial at both the JUCO and Division 1 level of the sport.

“So I feel like in JUCO, I put myself in situations to kind of succeed by watching film a lot and kind of knowing the offense’s play card,” Tarnue said. “Watching film and seeing them run a lot of first down, second down, third down. If they need to take a shot, who are they looking for, I mean, who does the quarterback look toward? So I feel like I put myself in the same seat this year even though it is a whole different situation, a whole different spot.”

On film, Tarnue shows a gritty playing style that demonstrates an athlete willing to play through the whistle and give extra hustle if it means making big-time plays. He has the determination to fight through blockers and disrupt plays in the backfield both on defense and special teams, and a knack for play recognition that helps him sniff out the ballcarrier and bring him down as quickly as possible. He also appears to keep tight coverage in passing situations and has the ability to read the ball in the air to turn an errant pass into an incompletion or takeaway, even when he isn’t the man covering the intended target.

Tarnue credits his hustle and grittiness on the gridiron to the path he took to get to this point, and he certainly doesn’t seem ready to change his mindset now that he has earned some attention at the Division 1 level.

“I’m glad (I took) that route, the way my story is,” Tarnue said. “Being able to go to JUCO, playing JUCO ball for two years and just the first year, I feel like a lot of teams watched my film. I was young. It was a little rocky, like who is this kid. But coming into my second year, I really took it personal, like putting my name out there and stuff like that. It was a lot of training, a lot of work…You have to have the mindset you want to be great.”