Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 3, 2012

Little-known Mountaineers getting noticed

Orange Bowl Notebook

By DAVE MORRISON for the Daily Telegraph
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Early in the season, Wes Tonkery, a redshirt freshman defensive back, was erroneously awarded a touchdown in WVU’s win over Maryland.

It was changed moments later, but everybody got a chuckle out of it.

Well, Tonkery is back in the news, and this time it won’t change.

Because of an injury to Terence Garvin, the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Shinnston native will start in the defensive backfield Wednesday in the 2012 Orange Bowl.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Tonkery said Monday after practice at Barry University in Miami. “I remember when (WVU) won the Fiesta Bowl (2008) and Sugar Bowl (2006) and finally I get to play in a BCS Bowl.”

Tonkery and WVU’s defensive backfield will be challenged to try and contain wide receiver Sammie Watkins, among others.

“They have a lot of threats,” Tonkery said. “Their receivers are really fast, especially Sammie Watkins. We just have to take care of those problems.”

• • •

For every Wes Tonkery, there is a Connor Arlia.

Never heard of him? The Weirton Madonna graduate was a walk-on at West Virginia and wasn’t even in the media guide that is issued in the preseason. But he was on the verge of getting a shot.

That is, until he suffered a broken leg in a freak jet ski accident during an Orange Bowl function Sunday.

“He was a getting a lot of reps,” inside receiver coach Shannon Dawson said Monday morning. “His work ethic is unbelievable. He was getting reps due to the fact that Tyler (Urban) has been hurt. We’ve had some other kids hurt. So with those reps and his work ethic, he has been improving.”

Arlia hadn’t caught a pass, and was mainly a standout on the scout team. But he turned heads.

“It’s unfortunate because the kid is sitting in a situation as a true freshman that he’d probably get some reps in the game, in an Orange Bowl game,” Dawson said. “So unfortunate for him. But he’s got a long career. The injury he’s got, he’s going to heal up, so he’ll be fine.”

• • •

Shawne Alston was a teammate of Clemson quarterback Tahj Boyd at Phoebus High in Hampton, Va., for two years.

“I met Tahj my sophomore year. We played against each other before I went to Phoebus my 10th-grade year, before I transferred my 11th-grade year,” Alston said. “We fell a little bit short my junior year, we lost in the state semis. But then we won the state championship our senior year.

“That’s my brother. We’ve been through a lot together on the football field, even hanging together off the football field. It was the quarterback/running back relationship. But I still want to go out and beat him.”

He was asked to compare Boyd and Smith.

“I don’t think you can even compare the two,” Alston said. “Both are good quarterbacks and both are leaders on their team. That’s the only way you can compare them.”

• • •

On Monday morning, West Virginia players visited the Baptist Children’s Hospital prior to practice at Barry University.