A preseason injury could have derailed a lot of Tony Mathis’ hard work from the offseason.
He spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working on things the West Virginia coaching staff told him he needed to improve on — breaking tackles and running routes in the passing game were among them.
“I wanted to be here. So I just wanted to do what they wanted me to do,” Mathis said Friday. “So I got better at everything they said was my weakness and turned it around.”
Quarterback Jarret Doege recently called Mathis one of the hardest workers on the team.
But an injury suffered in the preseason held Mathis out of West Virginia’s season opener against Maryland. He carried the ball seven times against Long Island, but managed to get just two carries in the Week 3 win over Virginia Tech.
Following three-straight weeks of zero carries, WVU entered the bye week sitting at 2-4.
“The bye week, I rehabbed a lot. Ten times more,” Mathis said. “It was the time frame from my injury how I should be back. I wasn’t really ready the LIU game, but after that I was going to be ready.”
Mathis saw his workload increase immediately following the bye week in West Virginia’s next game against TCU.
He racked up 12 carries for 48 yards. Three of his runs counted as first downs. Another would have went for 17 yards and put WVU inside the five-yard line had it not been for an offensive holding penalty.
Five weeks later, Mathis more than doubled that performance in the season finale on the road against Kansas.
The Orlando native totted the ball 22 times and amassed 118 yards. He and Leddie Brown both went over the century mark on the ground, in what ultimately became Brown’s last game in a Mountaineer uniform.
Mathis described his performance against Kansas as a “big relief.”
His hard work from the offseason and preseason, and all the mid-season rehab he had done, had culminated in a coming out party of sorts.
The party will go on for Mathis.
With Brown announcing that he is opting out of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Mathis will be the starting tailback when the Mountaineers take on Minnesota in Phoenix, Arizona on Dec. 28.
“It feels good. I’m just ready for it, been working for it,” Mathis said when asked about getting the start.
His first career start will come against a Golden Gophers defense that ranks No. 9 in the country in rush defense, allowing just 100.2 yards per game on the ground.
But Mathis is ready to show he’s got what it takes to lead West Virginia’s running back room in the 2022 season.
That’s why when asked on Friday how he looks at the opportunity in front of him, Mathis said it was the beginning.
“Definitely the beginning,” he said.