MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–For West Virginia’s David Long his sophomore season was anything but easy. Now, he is once again at the helm of a questionable defense.
Last season the 5-foot-11, 225-pound linebacker missed the first four games due to a knee injury. Upon his return, he emerged as one of the few bright spots on the defense.
Long finished the year with 76 stops, including 56 solo tackles, four sacks, a team-leading 16.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He was fourth in the Big 12 in tackles and earned All-Big 12 Conference First Team (ESPN.com), All-Big 12 Conference Second Team (Athlon Sports) and All-Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention (Coaches) honors.
Also, he earned Pro Football Focus All-American Second Team accolades and was the Mountaineers’ Defensive Player of the Year.
Then the Cincinnati, Ohio native suffered a shoulder injury, which required surgery and sidelined him for the spring. But the redshirt junior is ready to get back on the field and lead a young WVU defense.
“I am 100 percent healthy right now,” he said. “I’m feeling good.”
As fall camp approaches, Long is getting back into a rhythm.
“I can do all stuff except for pulling stuff, stuff that can hurt me,” he added. “But other than that I’m starting to get back to lifting and stuff like that.”
With three years of learning Tony Gibson’s defense, Long is poised for a stellar season.
“I am way more familiar with the defense,” he said. “Athletically, I am faster right now and stronger. I am trying to put on some more weight right now. It’s stuff that’s going to take time but I’m going to get it right before the season.”
Now that Long is healthy, the Mountaineers will need him to anchor a young defense full of fresh faces once again. He and Dylan Tonkery are the only two linebackers with starting experience.
“It’s hard like every other year. The grind, it’s been real,” he said. “The defense as a whole is just getting into gel as it goes. We got a few new guys. We got a few new guys that’s going to take time but I’m pretty sure we’ll get it right.”
While expectations are low for the defense, the Winton Woods High School graduate is prepared to pave the way for success this season.
“Stay healthy is number one, just go out there and do what I know I can do to bring the defense up,” he said. “I’m one of the few older guys on the D that had to get these guys together so I’m pretty sure we can get that done.”
As one of the veterans, the younger players look up to Long but he believes you got to do the talking on the field.
“I am more of a lead by example type,” he said. “I like to talk when needed. If you’re not going to work, then your words really don’t have no value. I’m more of a lead by example then talk and let you know what needs to be done.”
The talent is there but the experienced players will have to help the newcomers develop into their roles on the defense. And Long believes time is their friend.
“Our goal is to get better as a defense as a whole,” he said. “We know what they are saying and they don’t know what’s going to happen on this side of the ball. But we do. We got talent like crazy. We just need to gel together.”
Cover Photo Credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS