For the first three years of his football career at Syracuse University, starting punter Rob Long was one of the most important players on the team.
Lucky for the Orange, Long was so good because the team as a whole was horrible. Long punted the ball 263 times in his career for an average of 43.3 yards, only 3 yards behind the record holder Todd Sauerbrun for the NCAA’s longest punt average.
This past season for the first time since 2001, the Orange had a winning season and played 13 games. Unfortunately, senior, co-captain and punter Rob Long would not play in this thirteenth game.
Throughout the season Long experienced frightening sypmtoms. Headaches, stomach pains and vomiting became regular occurrences, especially during road trips with air travel. Teammates including sophomore quarterback Ryan Nassib were unaware of Long’s health problems.
“He never complained, he just went about his business,” Nassib said in an interview with philly.com. Long hails from Downingtown, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.
Long was finally persuaded by his girlfriend to get checked out by a doctor in December. What Long would see on the MRI was much more concerning than headache, stomach pains or vomiting.
On Dec. 2nd Long was told he had what was believed to be a benign brain tumor in an operable spot. On the 14th he had surgery, but on the 20th he received terrible news. The tumor was not benign but malignant. He was diagnosed with astrocytoma, and radiation and chemotherapy treatments were not possibilities but necessities.
The surgery went well and Long was able to join his teammates on the sidelines for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankees Stadium on Dec. 30th.
Although Long could not play in the school’s first bowl game since 2004, he used Alex Rodriguez’s locker, he kicked balls at the New York Jets training facility, and he rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange.
What is Long’s next goal? The NFL.
Although Long was not drafted in this past weekend’s NFL Draft, ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper rated him the 5th best punting prospect.
Brian Bennett, a Big East blogger for ESPN.com, also was enthused by the prospects of Long playing the NFL. “Anyone strong-willed enough to battle through a brain tumor with the positive attitude Long maintained is someone I’d want on my side,” Bennett said on his column of the best “draft bargains.” “And don’t forget he was one of the league’s best punters throughout his career and also handled kickoffs and holding duties.”
Long can only hope that an NFL team will have the same opinion of him as a kicker and as a human being as so many others have had. As for now, Long is working hard toward the possibility of getting a spot.
And as for punting not being important? Long says differently. On Dec. 19th, five days after his surgery, Long watched the Eagles-Giants game as Giants’ punter Matt Dodge failed to punt the ball out of bounds and Eagles’ wide receiver DeSean Jackson returned it for the game-winning touchdown.
“Wow that’s wild…Punting matters people!!!” Long tweeted.