They’re wearing more than just pads on their shoulders.
There are chips there, too.
Just ask any West Virginia high school star about his quest to become a major-college football player. Some make it, some don’t. And some of the guys that don’t make it, should have.
That’s the inherent peril of playing in a state that isn’t exactly known as a recruiting hotbed.
“Oh, yeah, I definitely felt that chip on my shoulder,” said Dylan Tonkery, WVU junior middle linebacker who hails from Bridgeport. “It’s kind of gone away now, but the first game that I played I really felt it on my back.
“I could feel I was out there playing for my team ... the team that I had been wanting to play for my whole life. Every kid that comes from West Virginia feels that doubt. You just have to overcome and get on the field and play.”
That’s often easier said than done.
Huntington native and former Spring Valley High School standout Tyler Brown is a prime example. First, he had to go the FCS route and play for Robert Morris. But then Brown transferred to Marshall and now he’s an FBS scholarship player.
“Yeah, we definitely have a chip on our shoulders,” said Brown, a 6-foot-2, 219-pound senior linebacker. “Especially me. I was a walk-on. So, I had the whole walk-on mentality coming into it. I knew what it was going to be about. I knew I had to bring it every day and show up every day.
“I feel like since I got out of high school, there has been a lot more West Virginia recruitment.”
Spring Valley alone is a good example.
“That roots from Elijah Wellman getting recruited,” said Brown, “and then me, Trevor Stacy and Alex Locklear all three going D-I.
“But there’s a time I remember there were only three Division I commits in the whole state of West Virginia. My sophomore year there were Elijah Wellman, Ryan Switzer and Dylan Crouser. They were the only three. So, it definitely has opened up a lot for West Virginia people.”
WVU’s Darius Stills is yet another case.
“I’ve always loved being underrated because all you have is to go from there and you can prove a lot of people wrong,” said the 6-1, 292-pound defensive tackle from Fairmont. “That’s the best revenge in my opinion.
“Without that and without my drive, I wouldn’t be here today. I feel like perservering through a lot of stuff brings you a lot further in life and makes you more mentally tough. Does that put a chip on my shoulder? Oh, yeah. Sometimes I wish I was more appreciated by some people. But, then, I think, ‘Let them sleep’ so I can wake them up in the season. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Neither would Huntington native Owen Porter. The former Spring Valley standout openly admits having a chip on your shoulder isn’t a bad thing.
“Oh, no, it’s not,” said the 6-2, 240-pound Marshall redshirt freshman defensive end. “It kind of helps every day coming out here. You just kind of feel it’s your home state and you want to represent your home state better than somebody who’s not from here.
“But you know it’s going to be harder, so you always will have that chip on your shoulder.”
Right, Dylan Tonkery?
“People just don’t really agree that West Virginia has good football players,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
And the chip didn’t fall off.