MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — David Long’s impact on West Virginia’s linebackers is easy enough to measure on paper. The 84 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks tell that story.
But the truest measure of his impact is that it has continued regardless of the rotating cast that has played next to him all season. Injuries have forced the Mountaineers to turn to three middle linebackers – Dylan Tonkery, Shea Campbell and Zach Sandwisch.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson credits Long and all three Mike linebackers for their ability to stay on the same page. That’s not easy for the guys in the middle, considering Long frequently ends up in places a guy from the outside normally wouldn’t.
“That’s a hard job to play off David, because he does so many things. I give him the freedom to do that, because he can make a play so it’s less hard on the Mike,” Gibson said. “That part is a learning curve for them.”
Long’s production hasn’t suffered.
“He makes every play, and he affects every play,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “I guarantee you the offense knows where he is every single play.”
Even as offenses operate with the explicit intent of staying away from Long, he finds a way to hustle in.
“I haven’t been around a lot of guys like him who have a nose for the ball like he has,” said Tony Gibson. “Grant Wiley was the same kind of player. Grant was a little bigger, but David, doing the things he can do, I wish I could tell you that it was me coaching. But it’s not, trust me. The best coaching advice I can give him is, ‘Go make a play.’”
At 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, Long doesn’t typically overpower blockers. He just works his way around them.
“He’s hard to block,” Holgorsen said. “His pad level in unreal. He runs underneath blocks or around blocks or through blocks or gets off blocks.”
Though he has elevated to star status, Long’s college career started off the same as Tonkery, Campbell and Sandwisch. Each redshirted, practicing with the scout team during their first season.
Long says he can tell each of them have handled things the right way as they’ve waited to make an impact.
“It’s very important not to get discouraged and look at it as a way to learn from the players that are in front of you just to keep working,” Long said. “Learn from the wrongs and the rights and develop off of the mistakes you’ve made or seen made in front of you.”
Having been there himself, Long plays the role of encourager, which now appears to be paying off in the middle.
“When I get a chance to talk to younger guys, I let them know it’s a long journey,” Long said. “You’re going to have those days where you’re like ‘Man, I don’t feel like practicing.’ I just help them know in any way I can that it’s not going to be like that in the long run if they just keep working.”