MORGANTOWN — Will Grier and David Sills have taken the majority of the attention for the WVU football program, and rightfully so.
The dynamic duo put up monster numbers last season, and offensive football always seems to sell. But while Grier and Sills are getting the national interviews and smiling on the front of magazine covers, another Mountaineer is getting well-deserved attention as part of a defense that many are not optimistic about.
Linebacker David Long was named the 24th best player in all of college football — offense or defense — by Sports Illustrated, just two spots behind Grier and 14 ahead of Sills. That is high praise for the junior Long, who WVU needs to play like one of the best players in the nation this season.
Long has yet to start a full season — missed four games in 2017 because of a torn meniscus and did not start at the beginning of 2016 — but when he’s on the field, he is a disrupter from the weakside spot.
In nine games last year, Long finished with a team-high 16 1/2 tackles for loss, which was fifth in the Big 12. His presence as a pass-rusher and run-stopper adds an important aspect to the WVU defense, which needs to replace half its starting unit.
After missing all of spring practice following minor shoulder surgery, Long is healthy and ready to live up to the billing many have laid at his feet.
With all of the hype for the his offensive counterparts, Long likes that the defense is flying under the radar.
“I’m looking forward to us going out there and proving a lot of people wrong,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what we have on this side of the ball, and the offense is getting a lot of the hype, which is cool. I’m glad they are because they have a lot of weapons over there.
“But we know what we got and we know what we can go out there and do.”
Long, like Grier and Sills, is quick to dampen individual hype in favor of team goals. While the accolades and preseason pats on the back are nice, that’s not what this season is going to be about.
“I don’t feel like it makes a difference,” Long said. “It’s good to get some recognition, but somewhere else, they probably have me way down the line. I’m just going to go out there and play like I play. I put in a lot of work for a long time. Sometimes, people get disrespected and don’t get what they deserve, and sometimes you get love. It comes and goes.”
As of today, though, it’s here, and it will stay if Long continues to build off what he’s done in the first half of his playing career.
But it all starts with his health, and that has been an issue so far with knee and should problems. Long knows how important he is to the defense, and after having to miss all of spring camp, taking care of his body is priority No. 1.
“I’ve been getting stronger every week, and I’m just trying to stay healthy and be out there with my team,” he said. “All I do is play football, so any chance I get to be out there, I’m definitely trying to take it. It was tough, though, but I’m back now.”