MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Through eight days of preseason camp, West Virginia has operated without injured Will linebacker Brandon Golson.
Yet through those eight days, Golson’s backup has been the surprise of camp.
Fifth-year senior Wes Tonkery, whose only college start came in the Orange Bowl that capped the 2011 season, has been thriving with the first-team defense. It’s essentially a temporary promotion until Golson recovers from shoulder surgery, yet Tonkery has capitalized on the opportunity.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson singled out the Bridgeport High product this week as having the best camp of any defensive player, and head coach Dana Holgorsen seconded the praise Thursday.
“That’s nice to hear,” Tonkery said Friday. “It backs up all the things you’ve been working for all summer and winter long.”
This time last year, it was Tonkery coping with a weak shoulder. He suffered the injury during two-a-days and was unable to fully heal amidst the full-contact practices that typically define camp.
“My shoulder popped out almost every week,” he said.
Once the regular season arrived, Tonkery primarily served as a special-teamer. Even that role ceased the night of Oct. 5 in Waco, when he mysteriously fractured his left thumb against Baylor and was shut down for the season.
“I’ve watched the replay a few times and I’m still not sure how it happened,” he said. “I was hurt on my left hand and my right shoulder, so they figured I was done.”
Sidelined for the final six games and unsure where he stood in West Virginia’s future plans, Tonkery used the time off “to re-evaluate myself.” After thumb surgery, he was back to conditioning work, aiming to make his senior season his best yet.
His early camp performances indicate he’s on track. Even with Golson expected to regain the starting spot soon, Tonkery could be counted on for depth.
“It’s been good, because it showed that I didn’t take a step back,” said Tonkery, a lifelong Mountaineers fan who’s almost 40 pounds heavier than when arrived in 2010 as a 186-pound safety.
“Watching this team your whole life and being a part of it, and now it’s my senior year,” he said. “It’s hard to believe it has gone by so fast.”