A Long And Winding Road

College athletes usually have three, four, even five years of eligibility in their sport. Kyle Long has one.

EUGENE, Ore.,-The senior offensive lineman has had a long path to the University of Oregon, one that included multiple schools as well as sports. So for Long in approaching the lone season with the Ducks, he does so with a great deal of urgency.

"It's an expedited process. I want nothing more than to play and help this team out anyway possible," he said. "I just want to take as much out of this one year as possible."

That began this summer, when Long touched down in Eugene to begin summer classes. Unable to participate in spring practice because of academic requirements that still needed to be met at the junior college he was attending, he felt a step behind.

So, he began working with fellow offensive linemen Hroniss Grasu, Ryan Clanton, Carson York and Jake Fisher. He recalls Fisher showing him detailed footwork even before he knew any offensive terminology.

"I really appreciate that about all of the guys, all of the coaches. It was an easy process. I just needed to apply myself," Long said. It was one that didn't go unnoticed.

"Kyle's done a great job of being a leader by how much he's committed himself to learning the offense in the short time he's had," fellow offensive lineman Nick Cody said. "He puts in a lot of extra time to understand not only tackle, but now he's learning guard. He's got a really good sense of how everything goes up front."

Listed at 6-7 311 pounds, Long seemed an ideal candidate to play on the outside, but injuries to York and Mana Greig have moved him inside to guard where he got his first start against USC . Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood has a history of making such changes, so Long entered this season aware of the possibility.

"The great thing about our offensive line is that we're all athletic, we can move. There are no 330 pound guys.

"I think I'm the heaviest guy," he added.

Long quickly learned that was by design, a necessity to be part of a team that operates at a sweltering tempo, even up front. During a summer conditioning workout, he remembers feeling gassed after running wind sprints, only to be mocked by teammates, who warned of things to come saying "Just wait. Just wait."

"I was like ‘It can't get much harder than this,'" he said. "Then the first week of fall camp happened."

"It was a lot of prayers: "Just get me through this practice."

Reflecting on it, he uses the Oregon mantra "greatness is being better than your former self". If Long is searching for motivational adages he's got one source better than the rest, his father Howie Long, an NFL Hall of Fame defensive lineman, whose words he considers to be "gospel".

One thing his father told him sticks with him and is the reason he began playing football and still plays today: Have fun in what you choose to do.

"That's why I'm playing football. I love it. I love every day," he said.

That wasn't always the case. Growing up, Long quit playing Pop Warner after only one game, because he couldn't make the necessary weight to carry the ball. Taller and heavier than the rest of his peers, he was embarrassed by his size, believing that being so large was a bad thing.

He gave it another go as a freshman at St. Anne's Belfield High School in Charlottesville, Virg., playing on the junior varsity team as a defensive line, but quit because he "didn't enjoy it".

During the next two years he focused on something he did enjoy: baseball. At the time he dreamt of being a major league pitcher for his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, pitching in the limelight at Fenway Park.

Then, at 17, football once again caught his attention. His father was reluctant, but told him that if he did he'd play offensive tackle.

"I couldn't really question his judgment because he'd been around the game for so long," he remembers.

For the last two seasons at St. Anne's Belfield, Long was a two-sport star, protecting his younger brother Howie Long Jr.'s blind-side on the gridiron and heaving heaters on the diamond. He and his brother won two state championships and Long was a two-sport All-American.

In the spring of 2008 he signed a baseball scholarship with Florida State.

He would never take a step on the mound. Over Christmas break his freshman year in Tallahassee, Long was arrested for a DWI. He withdrew from the school immediately and gave up baseball.

"I needed to take care of some personal issues that I'd been having. That was the straw that broke the camels back, in my mind. I sought help after that and it's been a process since then of recovery."

"I just need to get back to being myself. I felt like I wasn't myself for about a year, I'm back to where I want to be," he explained.

It wasn't until a couple of months later that he decided he wanted to give football another shot and enrolled at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif. The decision was one of resilience, something he learned from his father, both as a football player and as a man.

"He was a relentless player, from the first play to the last play. If you looked at the fourth quarter tape, it would look the same as the first quarter tape," Long said of his father's playing style.

Only five years old when his father retired, he doesn't remember much from him as a player, but more of being around his teammates, like running back Marcus Allen. How other kid's parents weren't football players confused him, it was all he knew at that age and he just assumed everyone played football for a living.

It's something he hopes to do some day, following in his father's footsteps, like his older brother Chris has done, a pro-bowl defensive end for the St. Louis Rams.

"I'm pretty sure having a brother in the NFL definitely helps, especially when you're a tackle. If he wants to see a tough pass rush, he's got a first round draft pick in his family," Cody said.

Chris and Kyle have never been on the field together. If it were to happen, Kyle would call it both the "coolest" and "scariest" experience of his life, scary also for his quarterback.

"I hope Marcus [Mariota] is back there, so he can run around maybe. Because I know Marcus can get away from him," he said.

If things go to plan this season, Long may just have that opportunity in the not so distant future, as a possible draft pick in next summer's NFL Draft.

Getting another year of eligibility might delay that plan, however, but Long, who's already appealed the NCAA for another season, wouldn't mind.

"I'll do anything in my power to fight to get that extra year and come back here for another year at Oregon," Long said.

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