Wes Tonkery has been through a lot during his career at West Virginia.
The redshirt senior linebacker from Shinnston, W.Va. has played in two conferences under two head coaches, played safety before rotating through almost every linebacker position, started a BCS bowl game and suffered through numerous injuries.
Now, in his final year with the program, the local kid who starred at Bridgeport High School will be playing in one of the biggest games of his career Saturday against preseason-No. 2 Alabama in the Georgia Dome.
The path hasn’t been easy, but Tonkery, who grew up watching the Mountaineers, said these are the games he came to WVU to play in.
“It’s definitely been a struggle. Being held back through injury doesn’t make it easy,” he said. “But you put in the hard work, and I ended up where I’m at now.
“I’ve watched this team win big games in the past, and I want to carry on the tradition.”
Tonkery was a two-time All-State selection at both running back and defensive back in high school. He wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school and flew under most Division-I college scouts’ radars before accepting a scholarship to come to WVU in 2010 as a safety.
After redshirting his first year on campus, he played extensively on special teams before making his first career start in the Orange Bowl in place of injured safety Terence Garvin.
In 2012, Tonkery moved down to linebacker in the Mountaineers’ new 3-4 defensive scheme.
He remained at linebacker before sustaining a season-ending injury to his hand against Baylor in 2013.
Since then, the coaching staff and his teammates have been raving about his hard work and performance during fall camp and practice leading up to the season opener.
As far as the injuries that have plagued him throughout his college career, Tonkery said they’re out of sight and out of mind.
“I play like I’ve never had them,” he said. “If you hold back, then that’s when you get hurt.”
After receiving a good amount of reps throughout fall camp and practice, Tonkery is listed as the No. 1 strong side linebacker on West Virginia’s latest depth chart.
Depth charts are always subject to change as far as different packages and personnel, but the native West Virginian still figures to see plenty of action Saturday against the Crimson Tide, whether he’s on the field to start the game or not.
Tonkery credited Alabama’s talent-loaded team with being big, fast and strong but said the Mountaineers’ defense will be prepared.
When asked about being a 26-point underdog, Tonkery smiled and said he enjoys it.
“I think most of our success comes when we’re the underdog,” he said. “I take it as a challenge.”