MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Dylan Tonkery is finally moving again.
That alone is a big step forward for the West Virginia middle linebacker, who had last season derailed by a groin injury he initially suffered against Texas Tech. He tried to go the following week against Kansas, but the day after the game, Tonkery woke up in searing pain.
“Dang, this really hurt me,” Tonkery recalled thinking. “I couldn’t walk when I woke up.”
Due to the nature of the injury, there was always hope that he’d be able to get back onto the field. But each time Tonkery felt he was close to turning a corner, it turned out to be fool’s gold.
“I just kept getting re-injured,” Tonkery said. “That’s what bothered me the most.”
Tonkery missed three games before attempting to get back on the field against TCU. The comeback lasted all of two plays.
“The second play I felt it, and I just walked right off to the sidelines,” Tonkery said.
What Tonkery felt would make anyone wince.
“It just completely popped off,” Tonkery said of his groin muscle. “Right then, I knew I was done for a while.”
The most frustrating thing for Tonkery was the sense of helplessness in being unable to help the Mountaineers defense.
“Just having to stay on the sidelines, knowing I could be playing [is the hardest part],” Tonkery said. “Standing there and watching without even having pads on.”
Thanks to an intensive rehab process, Tonkery is already back to full speed for West Virginia’s spring practices. He said much of that work was done in the sandpit adjacent to the Mountaineers practice field known as “Muscle Beach.”
“That’s where all the injured kids go during practice. You are with the strength staff pretty much the whole time,” Tonkery said. “So, I am over there pretty much just working out, doing extra workouts, the whole time. So, that’s pretty much what I did all of last season when I got hurt.”
Of course, Tonkery’s return has yet another challenge thrown on top. Though the Bridgeport native remains in the same place on the field, much has changed about his role in new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s scheme.
“Pretty much all of the responsibilities have changed,” Tonkery said. “As a linebacker, obviously you’re coming downhill to the linemen. But other than that, gap responsibility has changed. The blitzes are different.”
The new scheme felt pretty foreign to Tonkery as the Mountaineers prepared for the start of spring football, but now that he’s seeing it in action, he’s warming up to it.
“It’s no 3-3-5, that’s for sure,” Tonkery said. “There’s not as many people in the box. Being in pads twice now, I’m very surprised at how it works. It works really great, actually.”