Tonkery helps carry load for defense
MORGANTOWN - If yet another revival of the TV series “Dragnet” ever comes down the pike, West Virginia University’s football program has the perfect candidate to play character Joe Friday.
He’s linebacker Dylan Tonkery.
Understated. Matter-of-fact. Straight to the point.
You can almost hear Tonkery narrating the brief series opening. “This is the city - Los Angeles, California. I work here. I’m a cop.”
Instead of carrying a badge, though, Tonkery is helping to carry WVU’s defensive hopes into the 2018 season. It’s quite a load considering the Mountaineers are loaded on offense and set up for a special season - if, that is, the defense is solid.
Ask Mountaineer defensive coordinator Tony Gibson what he needs from Tonkery, the projected starter at middle linebacker.
“Just to make sure he’s in charge of that defense,” Gibson said. “I put a lot on the back of our ‘Mike’ linebacker. He’s our quarterback. He’s got to make our checks. He’s got to make our calls. He’s got to get us lined up. And I think he’s doing a really good job of it.
“The biggest hurdle with Dylan is to get him to talk. He’s a man of few words.”
Just call him Dylan Friday. But he’s a man who knows what he wants.
Like which football program to play for.
A two-time Class AA all-state first-team selection from Bridgeport High School in West Virginia, Tonkery watched his brother Wes play for WVU from 2011-14.
He watched, that is, and waited. Finally, his own scholarship offer came around the time of the 2015 Super Six.
“The (Class AA) championship was on Friday,” Tonkery said. “I was offered that Monday or Tuesday.”
And the decision-making process?
“There was no decision to make,” Tonkery said. “As soon as coach Gibby said I could come and play here on scholarship, I jumped on it as quickly as I could. That night, actually.”
No other schools of interest?
“I have no interest in playing anywhere else but here,” Tonkery said.
Tonkery, now a 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore, redshirted in 2016 before playing in all 13 games last season. He started eight games - four as the weakside “Will” linebacker and four as the strong-side “Sam” linebacker.
All the while, head coach Dana Holgorsen was touting the state native as an “elite” athlete in regard to training and measurables.
“That’s just going in the weight room and working hard,” Tonkery said. “I guess I was just doing good with the numbers.”
While Tonkery is conservative with words, you can loosen him up a bit by asking about his teammates. Like about new “Sam” linebacker Charlie Benton.
“Charlie is doing really good right now,” Tonkery said. “He’s kind of in the same position I was last year. I think last year I was pushing 215, 220 (pounds) and that’s what he’s doing.”
Benton, a 6-2 junior college transfer, is listed on the roster at 213 pounds.
“He’s coming along real well,” Tonkery said. “A little better than what I was doing last year at that position. Charlie likes to play real fast. We’re all pretty fast linebackers though. We all hit our gaps pretty quickly. It’s just how we all play.”
But, again, WVU needs an overall fine performance this season. Tonkery said that looks to be in the offing.
“A lot of the guys we have bring a lot of energy, like (defensive end) Zeke (Rose),” Tonkery said. “Our defense just naturally has a lot of juice to it. We’re always excited and ready to get out on the field to play.”
The sophomore said he and his teammates work well together.
“We just try to stay on each other,” Tonkery said. “We try to keep each other disciplined and call each other out in practices if we’re not doing our jobs or giving 100 percent effort. We try to keep each other going and true to the game.”
Gibson said that’s not a problem with Tonkery.
“He’s so much better now,” Gibson said. “He has so much confidence. He’s playing extremely, extremely well. He’s a tough kid. He’s powerful. He’s strong.”
Now, if he only carried a badge.