HOTSEAT- Rising son: Long ready for NFL shot of his own
It's a familiar sight to UVA football fans: a 6'4", 285-pound giant, sweat glistening on his brow, wearing #91 for the orange and blue, taking a deep breath, having given his all on the Scott Stadium field. Except it's February, and he's walking off the field not from a game, but from a photo shoot with the Sporting News. Long has spent the last half hour in full pads, running at imaginary quarterbacks, jumping for phantom errant passes, and diving after footballs lying on the ground.
Even when the game is make believe, Chris Long can't give less than 100 percent. That level of intensity was part of the reason the Cavaliers finished with a 9-4 record this year, a four-win improvement over last season.
"We were all motivated together," says Long. "Our pride was on the line, and a lot of people were pointing fingers at us after last year."
Long and company had the added motivation of "Groh must go" signs peppering the Grounds, and media reports of the coach's shaky job security after the team's 5-7 record in '06.
"We had the same team both seasons," says Long. "We wanted to prove that it was our fault, not the coach's."
Long says Groh has been a positive influence on his life on and off the gridiron, although the leader's wisdom was usually imparted to the team with a stick rather than a carrot.
"He had people check every class to make sure we were there," says Long. "If we missed one– even if it was an optional class– he'd make us get on the ground and roll, run, or lift weights at 5am. So missing class wasn't an option."
Of course, the other big influence on Long's football career is his father– Pro Football Hall of Famer and Fox TV analyst Howie Long. The comparisons are inevitable, especially considering that Chris followed in his father's cleat-marks by playing defensive end. Chris says he's prepared for the extra scrutiny now that he's about to begin his own NFL career.
"I'd do the same thing if I heard of someone following his father into football. I've just gotten used to it."
And he admits that he roots for players who are constantly compared to more famous relatives.
"I was really excited for Eli Manning winning the Super Bowl," he says of the New York Giants' quarterback whose older brother Peyton quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts the previous year. "They beat him up in the press constantly because of his brother, but you can't argue with a championship."
Long will soon begin his own quest for a Super Bowl ring, when experts predict he'll be one of the players chosen highest in the NFL Draft in April. Before that, however, he must stand before hundreds of people in short shorts and a tight-fitting shirt while scouts analyze every inch of him at this month's NFL Scouting Combine. A battery of tests that include everything from the 40-yard-dash to a vertical leap, the Combine is the venue where prospects' physical attributes are measured in as scientific a way as possible.
Long admits it's a strange ritual, but he says he's looking forward to it.
"It's a meat market," he says, "but you get to show off your skills, address people's doubts, and show them what you've got."
Long looks to be in playing shape on that day, but he admits– perhaps at the peril of his draft status– that the recent round of awards banquets that followed his All-American season was not kind to his physique.
"The hard part is not to eat like a slob, because they bring you all the food you want," he says. "I had to chalk it up as a loss."
He plans to work off the banquet weight by the draft, when there's a chance he could be picked up by his father's old team, the Oakland Raiders, who will have either the third or fourth pick overall. Long says he has no preference for which jersey he hoists in front of the cameras on draft day.
"Obviously, there are cities you'd like to live in," he says, "but I just want to have the chance to win and compete for championships."
Why here? My family's from here, and I wanted to play football at the University of Virginia.
What's worst about living here? Traffic, relative to the size of the town
Favorite hangout? The McCue Center
Most overrated virtue? Organization
People would be surprised to know: I was born with six fingers on my left hand. You can still see the scar.
What would you change about yourself? I wouldn't over-think everything.
Proudest accomplishment? Being elected a two-time captain for the UVA football team
People find most annoying about you: That I over-think everything
Whom do you admire? My best friends and teammates Clint Sintim, John Phillips, Byron Glaspy, and Aaron Grossman
Favorite book? Bo Knows Bo by Bo Jackson
Subject that causes you to rant? The treatment of college athletes: overworked and under-compensated
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Facebook
Biggest 21st-century creep out? MySpace
What do you drive? A 2003 Ford Expedition
In your car CD player right now: D-Block
Next journey? I want to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Talking back to my mom
Favorite comfort food: Wings
Always in your refrigerator: Orange juice
Must-see TV: Family Guy and Planet Earth
Describe a perfect day. Wake up early, get a good workout, have breakfast at Bluegrass Grill (but I'm never up early enough to get a table), watch my Family Guy DVD, take a four-hour nap, and then see where the day takes me. The key part is the four-hour nap.
Walter Mitty fantasy: I can fly.
Who'd play you in the movie? Howie Long
Most embarrassing moment? Getting in a bicycle accident first year, going too fast down a hill
Best advice you ever got? Appreciate your family.
Favorite bumper sticker? I saw this just yesterday: "If you tailgate too close, I'll flick a booger at your windshield."