Following the 2002 season, Long, the junior "Caveman" from Anacortes, became the first WSU player ever to garner a major collegiate award when he was voted the Outland Trophy winner. The honor is presented annually to the nation's top interior lineman.
The Outland was the crown jewel of a treasure chest full of awards and accolades bestowed on Long following the Cougars' 2002 Pac-10 championship season. The Caveman was selected for numerous All-American teams and multiple CF.C Fanny Awards, including WSU Player of the Year.
Ironically, he was also awarded a Fanny for "Best Announcement" in honor of his steadfast proclamations that he would return for his senior season. But threat of injury, his incredible collegiate achievements, familial obligations, and the advice of NFL insiders led Long to decide on the pro route.
"It was a hard, hard, hard decision," Long said on Saturday.
His change of heart came earlier this month when he attended the Outland Trophy presentation in Omaha, Neb. Former Outland winner and current ESPN personality, Mark May, and others in attendance, are said to have planted seeds of doubt with Long and his initial choice to play one more college season.
The 6-foot-6, 286 pound Long proved to be a key ingredient in the Cougars' Rose Bowl quest, recording 13 sacks, anchoring one of the nation's top run defenses, and almost single-handedly stopping Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and the USC Trojans in WSU's overtime victory.
Long's name joins the Palouse Pantheon of outstanding defensive lineman, an elite roster that includes names like Turk Edwards, Wayne Foster, Chad Eaton, Leon Bender, Laurie Niemi, Walter Herried, Matt Elisara, Keith Millard, Eric Williams, Erik Howard, and Don Sasa.
But more than his gridiron excellence, it was his infectious grin, his obvious love for the game, and his devotion to all things Crimson and Gray that made Long one of the most endearing Cougars in recent memory. It is those rare traits that will be missed the most Saturdays next autumn on the Palouse.