Surrounded by hype, Long focuses on team
Chris Long is never short on words but the one he uses most frequently is always short.
The senior defensive end serves as one of the team’s three captains along with senior tight end Tom Santi and junior guard Branden Albert. Long was named a mid-season All American by a handful of media outlets and is also one of 12 semifinalists for The Rotary Lombardi award, which goes to the nation’s best college lineman.
With all the hype surrounding him, as much as people want to talk about Chris Long, he is more interested in talking about other people.
After a stellar high school career at St. Anne’s-Belfield, Long’s jersey was retired. Instead of letting the amazing individual accomplishment go to his head or patting himself on the back, he focuses on his supporting cast and pays tribute to them for his success.
“It means a lot to me,” Long said. “I was very humbled by it and I was lucky to play with a lot of the guys I played with. It was a big deal to me and it still is so I’m proud to be a part of something like that.”
The fact that Long was a part of that football team seemed to be fate. Having been born in Santa Monica, Calif., Long spent a good deal of his childhood on the west coast. Long’s father, Hall of Fame defensive end-turned sports commentator Howie Long, moved his family out to Charlottesville when Chris was in elementary school.
“You never know what can happen but everything happens for a reason,” Long said. “It was an easy choice to come play at Virginia. I can’t imagine any other situation. I feel like everything happens for a reason, good or bad, and this was great. To happen to have moved to Charlottesville when I was nine or 10 turned out to be a really great thing for me.”
The move to Charlottesville wasn’t the only twist of fate that led to Long’s career at the University. Long was not as interested in football at a young age as he is now. On top of that, Long also played baseball, lacrosse and basketball in high school. However, once he started getting serious about football, there was no turning back for Long.
“I feel like everyone has something that they gravitate toward,” Long said. “I think sticking to football was a little bit of luck and a little bit of ability. Coach Groh saw that I had some talent and offered me a scholarship and it was then that I made my decision.”
Long thinks there are many reasons why he could not have made a better decision than to come to Virginia.
“I’m the same person deep down as when I got here, but you’re molded by the guys around you,” Long said. “I really couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to be around. It’s like I have a hundred brothers. It’s been the best experience of my life. Anytime you can walk away from somebody and call them family, and they aren’t your real family, you have really come across a valuable experience.”
Long has had countless valuable experiences in Charlottesville. His career has been shaped by several different people in this football program but there are two former Cavaliers who really stand out: Dallas Cowboys defensive end Chris Canty and New York Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
“It was tremendous to play with them,” Long said. “I was only with Chris for a little bit, but just watching him teaches you to raise the bar quickly. You see what the best is and from there on out if you just keep that attitude to be the best, you need to try and emulate that and you will be all right. Obviously with D’Brickashaw I can’t say enough. He is probably the most important person, whether he knows it or not, in my success. Just being able to go against him every day in practice was amazing. He is one of the best I have ever seen.”
Long’s decision to stay near home in Charlottesville also made it very easy for him to get advice with one of the best players to ever line up on defense his father. But Long said that he has learned more about the mental side of the game from his “Pops,” as he refers to his dad.
“I would say I have developed less on the technical side from my dad,” Long said. “There are definitely some things that I draw from him technique-wise. But it’s monumental the way he has been able to instill in me some of the things that, if I can keep working, will make me successful. In any sport the ideas of drive and just working hard are universal.”
As he did in high school however, with all of his success, Long continues to give credit to his teammates for his accomplishments and the player he has become. Even as a team captain, Long aims the focus at the entire team.
“I’m just honored to walk out to the coin toss with Tom Santi and Branden Albert,” Long said. “I also don’t think that we have just three guys who can be captains. I think that we have at least 15 or 20 guys that are capable of being captains. To me I’m just part of a group of guys that tries to lead this team.”
Despite his many accomplishments and awards, Long considers being a team captain his greatest individual triumph.
“For me it’s being able to walk out to the coin toss,” Long said. “That’s something very special to me and I have to cherish that. I’m very emotional when I get out there. You feel alive when you go out there with your boys and it’s probably one of the most unbelievable feelings in the world.”
Instead of letting the honor go to his head, Long understands the responsibilities that the team has entrusted him with as one of their captains.
“I need to lead by example and facilitate communication between players and coaches. Being an older guy, it’s about experience. You want to be a person that the other guys can come talk to. I love helping out younger players. They are the future and that’s what matters. After this year, us old guys, we’re not going to really matter anymore so you need to get the future ready for this great program.”
Junior guard Branden Albert finds it easy to recognize the strong leadership qualities that Chris exemplifies.
“Being a leader with him instills confidence in me,” Albert said. “He is the type of guy that you want to follow. Big players make big plays and he is one of those guys. If you’re a guy sitting back and watching him, you’re going to say I want to be like Chris Long,’ That is one reason why he’s such a good leader.”
Obviously, Long feels a great sense of unity within this football team. Players help each other out on and off the field, during practice and in the classroom. The team has grown a lot together and continues to grow as the season progresses. Long feels that growth and unity most after every game.
“I feel the team unity most after a win or a loss,” Long said. “Football is a game of highs and lows extreme highs and lows. To ride it out with these guys through the highs and lows is when we feel the most together because people outside of the lockerroom matter minimally when we lose and likewise when we win. It’s just us.”
Even though some people might argue that Long is at the top of his game, he thinks it is easy to find things to improve upon. He strives to work hard with his team to continue to win games and does not let the hype around him to distract him.
“It’s easy to stay focused,” Long said. “You just need to understand that no matter what you do, you can strive to be better and understand you really haven’t done anything yet. You’ve got to believe that the sky is the limit. If you haven’t exhausted your capabilities and your potential, then you can’t really sit there and be satisfied never be satisfied.”
Despite his success at Virginia, Long isn’t satisfied. He has been thirsting for an ACC championship ever since he arrived in Charlottesville and that only adds more fuel to his fire for the game.
“Right now, my No. 1 goal is winning the ACC championship,” Long said. “It’s what I’ve been dreaming about for four years so there’s no room for any other dreams right now.”
If the Cavaliers go on to win the ACC crown, Long will give all the credit in the world to his team.
If Virginia prevails, the first words out of Long’s mouth will probably be “We did it.”