Syracuse football recruiting started gaining momentum during their 2014 class. The champion and leader of that class was quarterback A.J. Long, who is now the starting quarterback due to part injury and part hard work.
Against Florida State last Saturday, he gave the Orange offense a spark and provided hope to a fan base that seemed on the brink of giving up on the season.
”It was a goal that I had so it’s nice to have it reached,” Long said. “But at the same time, I know that with that, there’s more responsibilities in making sure that the offense goes.
"That we don’t continue to have the same struggles that we had this past week and from weeks before.”
It was a solid performance for Long, throwing for 167-yards and a pair of touchdowns to offset two interceptions. But one that has not left him content.
”I would grade it as a C or C-plus at best,” Long said. “There were some good plays in there but at the same time, watching the film, there were a lot of mental mistakes that I made.
"Those are things I have to clean up and make sure that I do better with. That way the offense doesn’t struggle going down the road.”
It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the true freshman. From redshirting to starter, his initial campaign at Syracuse abruptly altered course when Terrel Hunt broke his fibula against Louisville.
Since then, his focus has been on getting ready. Making sure that he was as prepared as possible to lead the offense and not feeling satisfied with what he has accomplished in just one outing.
”I don’t really know if that moment will ever come,” Long said. “Because it’s just different. It’s a dream that I’ve accomplished but at the same time I know it’s not my team. Because I wouldn’t be in this situation right now if Terrel had not gotten hurt.
"So for me, it’s play as well as you possibly can and hopefully when this is all over, there’s a competition at the end of it and it’s not like you just go sit back on the bench.”
His primary target was fellow freshman Steve Ishmael. Ishmael’s recruitment was one that, publically at least, lasted right up until signing day. Long knew (as did CuseNation.com subscribers), however, that Ishmael would end up with him at Syracuse.
”Me and Steve had talked a lot,” Long said. “We knew that he was coming here. I knew the day after I committed that I was coming here. We talked about it and he was like, ‘that’s where I’m going to end up.’ He still wanted to take his official visits because it’s fun. It’s not something you get to do but once in a lifetime. It was nice to have that one sealed.
“I had been here so many times and he had not been here before. So just telling him and talking to him about it. The academics and the school and knowing how important that is for him. Then for football, football’s easy because you have coach McDonald who’s such a good recruiter in that area. It made it really simple.”
While Ishmael was the headliner, Long believes he has multiple weapons which will help the offense’s productivity going forward.
”I’m as excited with [Steve] as I am with everybody else,” Long said. “It’s a lifelong goal that I’ve accomplished and one that I want to be able to thrive and do well with. I’m excited with everyone. Everybody who does well. Everybody who’s open is going to get the ball.
"I’m not going to have a favorite target based off of one week. It’s going to be whoever gets the job done most effectively.”
This week, Long is taking all of the first team reps and is poised for his first career start on Saturday. Despite the changed role, the true freshman is approaching practice with the same mindset.
”Really in practice it’s no different,” Long said. “It’s just making sure that mentally you know where everybody’s going to be and everybody being there. Really there isn’t much difference because mentally, you have to be as sharp as you always are.”
With all of the added attention and hype, Long’s task remains a rather simple one in comparison. Beat Wake Forest to help turn Syracuse’s season around. That, he says, is his primary focus.
”They’re a solid defense,” Long said. “They’re technically and fundamentally sound. They don’t miss a lot of assignments. So this week is going to be a tough week for our offense. We have to make sure that we’re on point.”