Long Brings Leadership, Star Power To WVU Defense
Due the nature of the beast – which in this case is the culture of the Big 12, the culture of the West Virginia head coach, Dana Holgorsen, and the culture that surrounds any legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate like quarterback Will Grier, David Long may be the most anonymous star player in the country.
See, in this culture mix, he plays defense for the Mountaineers.
Of course, he has something to do with his lack of national attention because he has missed the early-season games — usually against lesser opponents in which he could have put up gawdy numbers and drawn some national attention to himself — and partly because his personality is to let his play, not his vocabulary, speak for him.
But make no doubt that this undersized linebacker (5-foot-11, 221 pounds) out of Cincinnati is the kind of playmaker who could wind up a candidate for the best defender in the league given a full and healthy season.
“My first year playing I was backup for the first three games,” he explained. “Last year I missed the first four games (recovering from knee surgery).”
Even this spring, he was out due to shoulder surgery.
“I was real bored, but I knew I had to get this shoulder done just for the betterment of later down the road. I was glad it wasn’t in the summer so I had to miss games,” he said.
But make no doubt, this tackling machine who has made 139 tackles in just 23 games — 20 of them starts — is eager to get untracked quickly this year.
“This year I’m just excited to go out there,” he admitted.
See, the down time has been torturous to David Long .
“I don’t really do anything but play football. That’s just my life right there,” he admitted.
Last year was especially trying, for there were high expectations on the year and he couldn’t go through the first four games.
“I was rooting the guys for sure. I love my teammates, but once I was able to go out there I put my heart into it. I was just so eager to play,” he said.
And when he was out there he was everywhere. Despite missing those four games — a third of the season — he was fourth in the Big 12 in tackles for a loss and ninth overall in tackles made, impressive enough to make him a preseason All-Big 12 selection.
He understands why he blossomed so last season.
“There was so little time for me to showcase what I had in those nine games that I went at it. I do feel missing those first four games was the best medicine for me because I was so eager,” he said.
While he did his thing last season, the injury to Grier that cost him the final three games left WVU with a disappointing 7-6 record that eats at Long.
“I’m a sore loser. I hate losing,” he admitted. “I was trying to figure out what was going wrong. I mean, we had players, but different players had different mind sets.”
And that, he vows, will not be acceptable this season.
“This year I’m going to make sure everyone is on the right page, a team player and not a selfish player because that will help us in the long run,” he said.
This is an area where Long has really grown. Like so many who come into college, he was a do-as-I-do rather do-as-I-say kind of player.
This season, though, he is blossoming in a leadership role.
“I’ve gotten better now that I’m in the role of leadership. I used to be aggressive, angry but you can’t coach everyone the same. Some people, aggressive coaching works, some, it doesn’t. I’m trying to learn how to get everyone on the same page, because I don’t want to lose,” he said.
“I like to show through my actions. I’m not a big hurrah guy. I want to show you, but I will talk if needed.”
So it is that this summer has been devoted toward molding a team.
“We’re getting there. Everyone is going to get there. We are going to take it week by week, but we’re definitely better than how we started,” Long said.
And that’s crucial because there are high expectations for this team, being picked to finish second behind Oklahoma in the preseason poll and with many believing this is the year Oklahoma can be had.
The Sooners have lost a Heisman Trophy quarterback in Baker Mayfield while WVU may have one in Grier, and that has everyone thinking that the first Big 12 championship for the Mountaineers could be on the horizon.
“I don’t think that should change anything,” Long said. “Of course, it will affect us because there’s more eyes on us, but we are going to stay focused. Me, personally, I like pressure. We will find out what type of team we have. I know we have the right pieces, but it takes everyone to get on board.”