You can’t blame St. Anne’s-Belfield coach John Blake for thinking about it. Not when Kyle Long, who Blake coached at STAB in what was then his second sport just got taken No. 20 overall in the National Football League Draft.
“Kyle was trying to find his way when he was with us,” Blake said. “But my gosh what a player he was…football wasn’t his favorite thing then and I can’t imagine how good he would have been if it had been his first choice.”
We seem to have our answer — or at least what the Chicago Bears think that answer would’ve been after they selected him with the 20th pick. Long took a circuitous route to the NFL draft that included STAB, Florida State for baseball, an arrest, Saddleback Junior College for football and four starts at Oregon last fall. It took another unpredictable turn Thursday night when the Bears tabbed him as their selection in the first round. It was a surprise to nearly everyone, as Long was routinely predicted as a second round or lower selection.
“I probably jumped as high as Kyle did tonight,” Blake said. “There are a lot of us who felt for Kyle while he went through what he went through. He’s come a long, long way. There are a lot of proud people now who never turned our back on Kyle.”
Long’s move up the Bears’ draft board is an incredible testament not only to his efforts over the last few years, but his work since Oregon’s season ended. Long has proven he had the size, strength and upside to get the Bears to take him that high in the draft. That athleticism coming to the forefront didn’t come as much of a surprise to Blake.
Long played tackle, defensive end and eventually tight end for the Saints during a state title run in 2007.
“He’s just so darn athletic,” Blake said. “He’s an incredible athlete.”
He’s also got what ESPN analyst Jon Gruden kept referring to last night when talking about most of the first round linemen — a competitive mean streak on the field that’s a near necessity to be a successful NFL lineman. With defenders out to maul you on every play, life can get tough on lineman who just don’t have that edge.
“I think Gruden was saying that because not every big guy like that has it,” Blake said. “It’s a desire to take care of business…and he’s got that.”
But Blake points not just to Long’s physical prowess and the inherent mean streak. The Bears are getting a player who’s been knocked down, gotten up and passed the test. Blake noted the way Long has matured since graduating from STAB. That was clear this week when Long stopped by St. Anne’s-Belfield’s campus for a visit.
“Kyle came by school today (Thursday) and he’s so down to earth and he’s such a humble kid,” Blake said. “(He) was walking around like he was running for mayor. Every kid who talked to him, he shook their hand. I’m watching him and thinking ‘wow dude, you’ve grown up quite a bit.’”
It’s an incredible pay-off for Long and for the coaches like Blake who’ve supported him along the way. With his brother Chris (now a St. Louis Rams defensive end) playing for the Saints before him and his father Howie serving as a volunteer coach, Kyle was around the STAB program for more than just his varsity career.
“He was part of our program for a long time, this is awesome,” Blake said.