MORGANTOWN — David Long was close to the hip of West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson on the FedExField sideline last season when the Mountaineers opened their season against Virginia Tech.
Unfortunately for Long, it wasn’t in full uniform: No pads or cleats, just a towel wrapped around his neck. The linebacker missed the game vs. Hokies with a torn meniscus.
Long sat out the first four games before making his return in early October at TCU.
As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Long didn’t get the starting nod, sitting behind Sean Walters in the opener against Missouri. Long did make his college debut that day, finishing with four tackles before eventually overtaking Walters as the Will later that year.
Now a junior, Long will start in his first season-opener Saturday against Tennessee in Charlotte, N.C. But more importantly, he has a clean bill of health.
“I’m definitely ready and I’m finally healthy now,” he said. “That’s stuff I’ve been battling personally so it’ll feel really good to be out there. I’m ready to be out there and give it all I’ve got.”
After coming back from injury last year, Long proved his worth to the WVU defense. He finished with 76 tackles, including 16 1/2 for loss.
With a few holes and lack of depth at linebacker, Long’s presence is something Gibson doesn’t have to worry about.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re going out back to play Suncrest Elementary — he’s gonna be rarin’ to go,” Gibson said. “I think he approaches every game the same and he’ll be ready. I know he’ll be excited.”
Being as passionate as he is made sitting out last year tough on Long, especially feeling like he couldn’t stand up and speak when things went wrong because he couldn’t be out there himself.
“With me being out, I didn’t want to be that person to say something to them because I didn’t know what they were going through,” Long said. “I’m not going to be judgmental about anything, so I just sat back, listened and was observant.
“After that, I was able to learn enough to help fine tune the defense heading into the next game.”
The Vols have a lot of questions marks on offense having not named a starting quarterback, running back or half the offensive line. For Long, it doesn’t matter who they trot out there, he’ll be ready.
“They can’t all be out on the field at the same time, so I just need to get a feel for who’s out there any given time,” Long said. “I’ve watched their spring game because you can’t really go off much of what they did last year because a couple of them left, but personnel wise, just knowing your opponent is how you get a one-up on them.”