AJ Long opens up about concussion history, future plans at Syracuse

first_imgAJ Long has watched the play at least 300 times. Handing the ball off, carrying out a fake, getting hit in the head by a defensive end. During last Wednesday’s practice, a “thud” session in which players only wore shorts, helmets and shoulder pads, the sequence that ended Long’s football career lasted no more than five seconds.“Just over and over and over,” he said.The next morning, Long woke up and thought it was still Wednesday. He couldn’t remember anything that happened the day before. He stood up and started seeing white spots as his head began to throb.He looked down at his phone to a text from head football trainer Denny Kellington telling him to come into the training room. He knew he had a concussion – his third since his senior year of high school and second at SU – that would sideline him for good.“I had a feeling in my stomach knowing how many I had before, knowing the severity of them,” Long said, “…that it’s very unlikely that I’m ever going to be able to play football again.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textOn Tuesday, the sophomore quarterback was medically disqualified from contact sports at SU. He’s the fourth Syracuse player in the last two years to have his football career cut short due to concussions. Last year, he started five games as a true freshman in place of the injured Terrel Hunt. This year, a broken throwing hand in the offseason and a recent head injury curtailed a comeback attempt that included intentions of switching to wide receiver and redshirting.Still, Long flashes an occasional smile, sitting with his back to a cushioned booth inside the Schine Student Center on Wednesday. He didn’t know how many people cared about him before seeing the outpouring on Twitter Tuesday night. It made shielding the past more bearable. It’s a journey cut short, but at the same time one just beginning.“He’s got a lot of life to live,” Long’s father, Ace said. “He’s got a lot of things he wants to accomplish and it’s all still there for him.”Long’s first concussion came late in his senior year of high school. He was playing safety and fell over before being accidentally kicked in the head. After practice, he inadvertently fell asleep in his locker. He doesn’t remember any of it and relies only on the words of his former teammates.He was the first commit in Syracuse’s Class of 2014 and envisioned putting the Orange back on the map, first by pioneering a recruiting class that could. He lists off Zaire Franklin, Ervin Philips and Steve Ishmael, three of the best players on this year’s team that came after him in that group.The second concussion happened the summer heading into his freshman year. Long woke up, rolled out of bed and hit his head on a nightstand. It came at the start of SU’s second summer session, so he had time to fully heal before training camp started.One week before Hunt fractured his fibula against Louisville on Oct. 3, 2014, Long planned to redshirt. The coaches told him that even in the situation that Hunt did go down, Long wouldn’t play. Still, he started against then-No. 1 Florida State and made four more starts last season. He thought he was going to be Syracuse’s starting quarterback in 2015.“AJ came in here with high hopes,” SU head coach Scott Shafer said. “…did a nice job last year when he was thrown into the fire as a young man as a freshman with all the quarterback injuries we had.”In the offseason, Long raised his weight to 190 pounds and worked out with private quarterback coach Madei Williams. Focusing on his upper-body technique – notably the fluidity of his motion and spiral on release – Long inched closer to fine-tuning the potential he flashed months before.But with an injury during a summer workout that he calls a blur, he only remembers that his right hand didn’t look or feel the same. Until being cleared to throw at SU’s training camp at Fort Drum, Long didn’t study the playbook. All exercises were focused on his lower body and core. He just wanted to regain feeling in his hand.“It was probably the worst thing possible,” he said.After the second week of the season, still wearing gloves to regain full grip in his throwing hand, Long talked with his parents, Williams, Shafer and offensive coordinator Tim Lester about switching to wide receiver. But before he could start the transition, déjà vu from last year set in.“Central Michigan rolls around and Eric (Dungey) got his concussion,” Long said of SU’s freshman quarterback. “I was thinking the same thing that happened last year. It’s going to happen again.”Instead, the Orange went with walk-on Zack Mahoney. Shafer told Long to be ready to play against LSU on Sept. 26. The time never came. Then when Dungey recuperated during the bye week, returning to health to face South Florida, Long again planned to redshirt.The third concussion was the dagger that ended his career 14 years in the making. When he first started watching the practice tape on repeat, Long thought about his football life being over. As the tape rewound more, thoughts shifted to coaching and how to stay with the game he’s played since he was 5.All he could do was sit in his apartment and think. He didn’t want to ponder the best possible outcome for fear of falling short. He was officially told by Dr. James Tucker on Tuesday that he’d been disqualified, but knowing what was coming made facing reality easier.Being frank, Long admits he doesn’t know how many concussions he’s had. He knows if he points out every little head discomfort, his career would’ve already been over.“I know the three that have made me, that have hurt me a lot, were these three,” he said. “I knew that they were bad.”And after news broke Tuesday night, Long scrolled through his Twitter feed. He read messages of support from his father, Syracuse fans and people he’s never met and began crying.For now, Long is focusing on making sure his head is fine. He wants to straighten out his academics and find out what to do with his time without football. He eventually plans to approach Shafer about an undergraduate coaching spot. If that doesn’t work out, he’s set on being a graduate assistant at any school that will give him a shot.Long gets more giddy talking about how he plans to model for his father’s clothing brand, S4G, or “Strive For Greatness.” He plans to sell the clothing on campus in the coming weeks and be what Ace called a “walking billboard” for his business.“This allows me to do so much with my life now because it’s cliché to say, a pedestal, so that way I can help other people now,” Long said. “Football helped me build the AJ Long brand that people know today. “He wants to be the youngest position coach in college football. Then the youngest coordinator and youngest head coach. Eventually, he wants to open up his own high school.The present is filled with uncertainty now that he’s displaced from normalcy. The future he had planned, despite being derailed, will now take a different course.“Football is just a game, but for me it was a tool to be able to reach people,” Long said. “Now it’s time to figure out what else consumes me, what else calls me in to be the best at it that anybody’s ever seen.” Comments Published on October 14, 2015 at 6:15 pm Contact Matt: [email protected] | @matt_schneidman Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *