For most of this week, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen spoke of what he perceived as a lack of rugged play from his players in last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State.
He spoke of a lack of mettle.
Yet when the name of linebacker David Long was brought up, Holgorsen almost looked sheepish during such talks.
“I hate to sit here and talk bad about that kid,” said the coach.
With good reason.
In an Oklahoma State game, in which almost every Mountaineer struggled for traction in the rain, Long flourished.
In that one game, in fact, he doubled his season tackling total with 18, including seven for loss and a fumble recovery — as a redshirt sophomore.
“We’ve been bragging about David for quite some time,” Holgorsen said. “He had a great freshman year. We lost him in the summer [with a meniscus tear] and it felt like we lost our best defensive player. He comes back on time and it probably took him a couple weeks to get his feet underneath him. But then he played outstanding. You can’t block him. He keeps his feet.”
Long, 5-foot-11, 222 pounds, missed the first four games of this season before returning against TCU. In that game, he had three tackles. Against Texas Tech, he had nine. Against Baylor, it was six. Then came the explosion against the Cowboys.
“The game,” he said, “is slowing down for me in my fourth game back.”
“He gets banged up and still makes tackles,” Holgorsen said. “Outstanding performance by him.”
“I knew on Wednesday what kind of game he was going to have Saturday,” said WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “I saw for the first time he stuck his foot in practice and went shooo. I thought, ‘All right. That looks like David from last year.’”
In 2016, Long played all 13 games and had 65 tackles, 4.5 for loss. And because of that, more and more WVU fans are learning his story.
A native of Cincinnati, he was but an honorable mention selection on the Associated Press All-Ohio Division II list. He had to travel to attend and play football at Winton Woods High.
Yet as a three-star recruit, he had offers from Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, Missouri, Marshall and WVU.
“It came down to us, Missouri and Kentucky,” Gibson said. “I promise you this, though, if people turned that film on, I don’t care if it was Alabama to whoever, they’d want that kid on their team.”
Gibson said former WVU assistant Shannon Dawson began the recruiting of Long. When Dawson left for Kentucky, however, Gibson stepped in. He visited often. He took Holgorsen.
“It wasn’t re-recruiting,” Gibson said. “He had committed. We had to make sure. Dana has allowed me to be heavily involved in every defensive player we recruit, but I really spent a lot of time with him because of the circumstance with Shannon leaving. It was a weekly deal. And then Dana and I went.”
They are seeing the payoff.
“He’s a freak,” Gibson said. “Instincts. Toughness. Want-to. The amazing thing is you turn the film on and he runs by our own people he shouldn’t outrun and makes tackles. There were about 18 examples from the other day.”
Afterward, though, the performance was pushed down by the weight of the loss.
“It’s so sad we didn’t get to celebrate,” Gibson said. “The mood around here on Sunday was not good. But his confidence right now is through the roof with a performance like that against a good football team. I’ll be excited to watch him the rest of the year.”
Long said he just wants to help lift his team.
“We’re not a bad defense at all,” he said. “We just have to make more plays — no matter how many times we have to go back out there [on the field during a game]. We have to get it done.”
He said No. 14 Iowa State will present another challenge.
“They’re a good team,” Long said. “A lot of grit. I know a couple players on their team. I played against their running back [David Montgomery] in high school. I’m pretty familiar with their team.
“They’re like our team last year. They’ve persevered and won a couple big games. Pretty good team.”
The teams will play at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown. It will be aired on ESPN2.