Virginia Tech true freshman cornerback Mansoor Delane missed much of preseason camp with a shoulder injury. But that hasn’t stopped him from playing a big role on defense for the Hokies in 2022.
Head coach Brent Pry and others have often said the game is never too big for Delane. However, the 6-1, 177-pound Silver Spring, Md. native didn’t play right away when he arrived on campus. As with any young player, it took some time for him to adjust.
On Sept. 14, a few days before Tech’s win over Wofford, Pry said Delane wasn’t ready to be in the fire yet. But after veteran cornerback Dorian Strong injured his hand against West Virginia on Sept. 22, the Hokies lacked depth and needed a boost.
Midway through the second quarter at North Carolina on Oct. 1, Delane was inserted into the game. The Tar Heels had first-and-10 at their own 23-yard line. They made a mistake, though – they ran at Delane, a play that resulted in a two-yard loss. And on the next play, quarterback Drake Maye kept it and picked up six before Delane brought him down.
The first two defensive snaps of his career resulted in two tackles.
“It was crazy because coach put me in. He was like, ‘Mansoor, you’re up,’” Delane said. “I got a running back running straight to my side. … It was awakening, but that kind of got me warmed up right there with two tackles the first two plays.
“I was a little anxious going in. That was my first time playing college football.”
Since, Mansoor (pronounced Mon-soor) Delane has looked like a natural on the field. His name, which has Arabic origins and means “victorious with the help of God,” is just one unique part of who he is.
Speaking with the media on Wednesday after practice, he joked that he’s played football since he was “fresh out the womb.” In reality, he started around the age of four or five, but he’s got a lively personality. He was a quarterback and middle linebacker growing up before switching to defensive back in high school.
“I was kind of captain on both sides,” Delane said. “So that’s where I feel like I get my cerebral part of my game, just knowing, being a quarterback in my youth league, just knowing what the offense is going to do and just knowing other people’s positioning.”
As a junior and senior at Archbishop Spalding, Delane played safety. Previously, he lined up at cornerback. He was recruited by the previous staff to Virginia Tech, who said they’d play him where he fit best. He was sold on the family feel. And a Maryland guy, he had connections with the Fuller brothers – Vincent, Corey, Kyle and Kendall – who are Baltimore natives.
At the time, Corey was Tech’s assistant director of player personnel. He connected Delane with his brothers, which played into his recruitment.
“They’re definitely highly spoken of,” Delane said of the Fuller brothers. “And I feel like they kind of said I could come in and do the same thing they did.”
Then Brent Pry was hired in Blacksburg in December, and Tech successfully fended off Maryland and Michigan State for Delane’s talents. When he arrived on campus, the Hokies desperately needed cornerback depth, so that’s where he landed after working a tiny bit at safety and recovering from his injury.
After recording three tackles in Chapel Hill, Delane played a good chunk at Pitt (three tackles, half a tackle for loss) and vs. Miami (four tackles, two pass breakups). His snap count continued to increase – he played 13 snaps in Pittsburgh to 42 against the Canes – and he continued to post exceptional tackling grades.
Part of that might be tied to his wrestling background. Delane never had time for basketball. He admitted he never really developed a hoop game anyway, though. But his father suggested he stay in shape and try wrestling.
“I was light,” Delane said. “I was probably 130, 135. When you get to high school, I had to stop, because it was contradicting, because I’m trying to gain weight. I’m almost a heavyweight at that point.
“Wrestling I feel like helped a lot in football, from a mentality standpoint. It’s one-on-one in the ring, and you’ve got to develop some level of manhood right there.”
In five of the six games he’s played in this season, Delane’s posted at least a 78 tackling grade, according to PFF. At NC State, a game he played every single defensive snap (79) – Pry said it was the first time in his career he’s had a true freshman do that – he graded out with an 83.1. Moreover, he had an 82.8 vs. Georgia Tech.
Delane’s received high praise across the board from his elders. Wide receiver and team captain Kaleb Smith joked after the Miami game that there were a few times Delane hopped in front of him in one-on-one drills in fall camp.
“I looked at him like, ‘What are you doing, man? You’re a freshman, get Dorian Strong out here,’” Smith said. “But just that competitive nature that he has is something that I’m very excited to see what kind of player he turns out to be because he’s crazy athletic, a crazy hard worker and he’s going to be special.”
Safety Chamarri Conner said he isn’t your typical freshman; linebacker Alan Tisdale called him a dawg; safety Jalen Stroman labeled him as an elite playmaker. And his coaches, from Pry and defensive coordinator Chris Marve to cornerbacks coach Derek Jones, have raved about him.
For good reason, though. He has the highest tackling grade on the team and the third-highest overall defensive grade. He’s a competitor through and through, was raised in a football family – his younger brother, Faheem, is a highly rated recruit in the class of 2025 – and always holds himself to the highest standard.
“He’s very confident,” Marve said on Oct. 19 during Tech’s open week. “He prepares the right way, no panic in him. To be so young… you don’t really always expect that from somebody who hasn’t seen as many snaps in real live game action. Playing in practice against your teammates is one thing, but actually being on the field in front of fans, on national television and having a cool about you, it’s been really impressive to watch, and it just goes back to preparation.”
It didn’t take long – just a few plays – for Delane to make himself known to Hokie fans. And against Miami, he came to the realization that he belonged in the ACC. Tech was in Cover 3 and the Canes ran a deep stop route on him. In the second half, they tried it again, but with the previous instance in the back of his head, Delane sat on it and broke it up. Everything finally started to slow down.
Sitting at 2-8 (1-6 ACC), the season hasn’t gone the way Virginia Tech has imagined. But like a handful of his fellow true freshmen, he’s given the Hokies hope for the future of the program. And he’s just getting started.
“I’ve been very, very pleased with him as far as his learning curve and being able to pick up things and just his knowledge of the game,” Jones said of Delane. “But on the flip side of it, he’s a young guy. So he’s still doing things that young guys do, and he’s still got the same temperament.
“It’s going to be a fun ride. He’s a great kid to coach. He’s very hungry. I love the work ethic that he brings to the table. Probably the most exciting thing about him are the things I have not been able to teach him right now as a coach and the future we’ll have together.”