MOBILE, Ala. – For most of his 24-plus years on Earth, Kyle Long pictured himself taking the road less traveled or at least a different lane than the one laid before him by his well-known family.
Long harbored dreams of playing professional baseball and, armed with a mid-90s fastball, he seemed to be on the fast track the major leagues.
After a long and arduous journey down his own path, Long’s road eventually landed him back on the same path that his Hall of Fame father Howie and star defensive end brother Chris have taken.
“I decided I was out of breath from running from my bloodlines and I needed to get into the family business because it’s the only thing I really know how to do,” Long said.
In this case, the family business is football. It’s also the thing that helped Long become the person that arrived here for this week’s Senior Bowl as a near certainty to become the third member of the Long family to ascend to the NFL level.
In look and sound, Long bears an uncanny resemblance to his older brother but he maintains he’s always tried to create his own way. So even as he’s abandoned baseball dreams for football aspirations, he’s found his own way to do things a bit different.
That’s why Long arrived here this week as an accomplished but relatively raw offensive line prospect out of Oregon.
“Baseball, you didn’t have to hit anybody and my dad didn’t know anything about it so he couldn’t step in and tell me what to do,” Long said. “They gave me a ball and told me to go throw it as hard as you can. I had some success with that until I realized there were a lot of guys like that who knew what they were doing.”
Long’s powerful left arm took him further than most, earning him a scholarship to Florida State after he turned down an offer from the Chicago White Sox, who drafted him in the 23rd round in 2008.
A 6’6 lefthander with a mid 90s fastball seems almost too good to be true and Long seemed on track to land in the majors sooner than later. Upon arrival at Florida State, though, Long did what many college freshmen do, taking to partying and enjoying life to the point where he didn’t keep his focus on baseball.
The missed opportunity culminated when Long dropped out of school and was arrested on DUI charges soon after.
Long said it was all part of growing up.
“I had to really establish my priorities,” Long said. “My whole priorities were out of whack and I had to become a man. We all grow up at different ages. We all grow up in different ways, under different circumstances and mine just happened to be a little bit later. I was a late bloomer and I wouldn’t change anything because it’s made me the man I am today.”
Long turned to what he calls the family business to get back on track. In 2010, he enrolled at Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, Calif. with the intent to give football a shot.
In his first season, Long worked at defensive end, the convenient position in line with the family tree. But when left tackle Max Little graduated and went to Humboldt State, Saddleback needed someone to step in. Long let his coaches know that he wanted the job despite not playing there since high school.
Still, Long felt immediately comfortable and did enough to earn an opportunity to play at PAC 12 power Oregon.
The adjustment this time wasn’t quite so simple.
“It was a shock initially, the adjustment going from junior college to Oregon just with the structure,” Long said. “You have to really immerse yourself in football and in academics and I feel like Oregon made that process very seamless and easy. With the help of a lot of teammates I was able to get an understanding of the offense and the scheme and we had some success there.”
Long had one season to show his ability at Oregon and started out in a timeshare situation with freshman Tyler Johnstone. An injury at left guard canceled that arrangement and Long voluntarily bumped over to that spot for the first time in his life for the Nov. 3 game against Southern Cal.
With nary a complaint, Long showed his teammates just how much he’d matured. Running back Kenjon Barner said Long was the consummate teammate and one of the people he most enjoyed being around, even in just one year.
“Kyle is the biggest, giant kid I know,” Barner said. “He’s a lot of fun to be around, a loving guy. He’s just a great guy to be around and he’s a great football player. For him to only have been at Oregon for one year and do what he did and then be here, it says a lot about him.”
Indeed, Long made enough of an impression on the college football world to earn a coveted invitation to this week’s Senior Bowl. His versatility and athleticism has some targeting him as a potential second-round pick though he’s really only scratching the surface on his football potential.
Long speaks to his brother and father regularly though he says most discussions with Chris are more about life in general than football.
Chats with Howie can vacillate between discussions with his father and discussions with the Hall of Fame football player.
“He’s my best friend, my biggest fan but at the same time he’s my biggest teacher,” Long said. And he’s somebody that does a great job of distinguishing between this is your dad talking and this is somebody that is trying to help you in football. He can flip that switch, which is great and I respect him for that immensely.”
Obviously, Long would be happy to be drafted by any team but he acknowledges that when this process is over, he wouldn’t mind joining Chris in St. Louis, especially after he signed the long-term contract he inked before the 2012 season.
“Anybody would love to play with their brother,” Long said. “The only games I watch are Rams games so it would be cool but whatever hand I’m dealt, I’ll just work as hard as I possible can and continue to try to improve as a football player.”
The winding road Long has taken to reach this point is not lost on him as he goes through this week and works to show NFL teams what he brings to the table.
If nothing else, that gives Long all the motivation he needs to jump headfirst into the family business.
“To be honest, a few years ago I didn’t know where the heck I’d be,” Long said. “I’m very grateful to be here. I’m very grateful to be healthy and to have a loving family and to have an opportunity to play a game that I love.”