Mistakes, tough love put new Bear Kyle Long on path to NFL
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com April 26, 2013 11:45PM
Chicago Bear's Kyle Long (center) is introduced to the media with Chicago Bear general manager Phil Emery (left) and head coach Marc Trestman. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 30, 2013 2:37PM
Kyle Long grew up in a close-knit family. The Longs did everything together.
‘‘We weren’t the kind of family that sent kids away to camp. They were home,’’ said Howie Long, the father of Kyle and his brothers, Chris and Howie Jr. ‘‘We kind of valued that summer time.’’
But it was more than that, as Kyle’s mother, Diane, explained.
‘‘We have three very hyper little boys,’’ Diane Long said. ‘‘We wouldn’t let them go to an amusement park with other parents because if they said, ‘Now, Johnny, we’re going to walk in a single-file line from there to there,’ most kids would follow that single-file line. Our kids would be climbing up fences and trying to jump onto moving rides. We thought we were the only ones who understood that. So we kept them closer.
‘‘But it really backfired when Kyle had the first major decision to make — where to go to college. He chose Florida State, which is a wonderful school for a lot of people. But for him, going from having boundaries [at home] to not having any boundaries was tough.’’
That’s where Kyle Long took a detour on the road toward becoming the Bears’ first-round draft pick Thursday night. He was living an idyllic childhood — the son of a famous, wealthy Hall of Fame football player, he grew up comfortably near Charlottesville, Va. — and was a star in both baseball and football. He was an even better athlete than older brother Chris, an All-America defensive end at Virginia who became the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft. Baseball was his first love; with a 96 mph fastball, Kyle was selected by the White Sox in the 23rd round of the 2008 baseball draft. But he had a football future whether he knew it or not.
‘‘Kyle could have been the No. 1 player in the [NFL] draft if he had continued with football,’’ said Tom Lemming, the national prep recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. ‘‘Even though he was tall, he played low and always got leverage. Quick hands. They said Chris was a football player. But Kyle was the athlete and had more upside. I invited him to my All-America game, but he decided to play baseball.’’
Long indeed chose to play baseball at Florida State. But it wasn’t the sport or the college that set him careening off the tracks. It was the long-awaited freedom. It turned him into a party animal and substance abuser who drank his way off the team, out of school and into oblivion. He never threw a pitch for Florida State.
‘‘Coming from such a close-knit structure at home . . . we didn’t go out,’’ he said. ‘‘Most of my weekend activities were in the house with my family. So when I was given the opportunity to go astray, I definitely took full advantage of it.’’
Academic issues precipitated Long’s withdrawal from Florida State. But he knows when he bottomed out.
‘‘I had a DUI — Jan. 3, 2009. Obviously that’s been well-documented,’’ he said. ‘‘That was the moment where I realized, ‘What the heck am I doing?’ Here I have the world in my hands and I’m pissing it away because I’m not taking care of what I need to take care of.’’
His parents helped him out by not helping him out.
‘‘You always love your child,’’ Diane Long said, echoing Howie’s sentiment. ‘‘But there’s a point where sometimes the best thing to do is step away. As parents, it was the most difficult thing for us to do.
‘‘You can’t micromanage your kids. You want to step in and financially support them even though they’re making the same mistakes. You can’t imagine, ‘What if he spends all his money that he has for a week in two days? What if he’s hungry? Those are really hard things to justify. But if they’re left along to figure it out themselves, they amazingly do — and that’s exactly what he did.’’
After undergoing a treatment program for substance abuse, a humbled Kyle picked himself up off the mat and sought out his athletic destiny — football — on his own. The son of a Hall of Famer played two seasons at Saddleback Community College in 2010 and 2011 and earned a scholarship to Oregon.
As far as he had come since Florida State, Long still was well off the NFL radar.
And he was fighting tough odds. The 6-7, 310-pound Long couldn’t beat out redshirt freshman left tackle Tyler Johnstone and was sharing the position until an injury provided an opening at guard.
Long started four games at guard for the Ducks — and the NFL started to take notice. After the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, he was rated the No. 3 guard in the draft.
When the Bears drafted him 20th overall, he became one of the greatest success stories in the history of the NFL draft. But he doesn’t need the NFL to validate his ‘‘comeback.’’ He did that a long time ago, when his parents forced him to become a man and he became one.
‘‘Kyle Long is one of the most well-liked people I have ever met,’’ Johnstone, his Oregon teammate, said. ‘‘He’s got such a great character about him. He’s humble. He doesn’t want to live in the shadow of his brother and his father all his life. He represents himself so well. He’s a real special person.’’
Diane Long remembers her son as a second-grader who’d go to school early to leave birthday cards on classmates’ desks.
‘‘He’s always been extremely passionate,’’ she said. ‘‘He always wanted someone to feel special on their birthday.’’
Today, after some trials and tribulations, she sees the same kid.
‘‘He grew up,’’ she said. ‘‘Seeing him low and sad and questioning himself and having zero self-confidence to seeing somebody who found his teachers and found his lessons by himself, we couldn’t be more proud.’’
‘‘I’m happy with what I’m doing,’’ Kyle said. ‘‘There was at time I tried to run away from [football] and be my own man. But you can’t run from your bloodlines. I’m a football player. It’s in my DNA.’’