Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NFL Draft Spotlight on . . . Chris Long of Virginia

Today's spotlight is on defensive end Chris Long of the Virginia 2007 he registered 14 sacks....Long is 6'4", 277 lbs and is rated as the top defensive end....he is the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long....Jerry Ratcliffe of the The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va was kind enough to respond to my questions about is much appreciated...

Q1. Chris Long is being touted as one of the top 5 players in this year's draft. How would you rate him among the various other college football players (Virginia and their opponents) you have covered over the years?
A. First, you must understand that I have been covering sports for more than three decades, so that's a lot of players. While I have covered a lot of players that have been first round draft choices, I must say that none of them were quite like Chris Long. You hear people say "his motor never stops," which is a somewhat over-used phrase these days.

However, with Chris, this is truly the case. He admits that he's wound too tight, but he is one of the most motivated individuals I have ever known. He actually made himself into what he is today with hard work and incredible drive. He really was a borderline Division I-A prospect until his junior year of high school, when he made some significant strides, strides that have never stopped. He works so hard in the weightroom and the practice field. He is truly a self-made success. For him to accomplish what he did his senior season against double teams and even triple teams, was remarkable.

Also consider that he was held so many times in games, that if refs had called all those holds, Virginia would have probably not given up many points on defense because teams would be facing long yardage all day. Playing the two-gap at his size was incredible because he was pit against 310 to 330 pounders and still managed to excel.

Chris is truly one of a kind. What an NFL team will get when they draft him is more than they might expect. He's not only a great athlete, he's a great leader, the kind of kid that's going to unite a team, inspire a team. He is a great spokesperson. He's a high-character guy, a great teammate and a great representative of an organization.

Q2. What type of person is Chris Long? Did he have an attitude because he is Howie Long's son?
A. Here is where Chris separates himself from some of the great athletes I have seen over the years. Some are great athletes but not great people. Chris is both a great athlete as witnessed in his NFL Combine performance, and a great person. I have gotten to know him better than many athletes in Virginia's program because he's a hometown kid. I've seen him around for years prior to his college career. As far as him having an attitude because of being Howie's son, well, quite the contrary.

While growing up with a famous father has its advantages, Chris also had to carry the burden of having a dad in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A lot of people looked at him in high school and thought that he was getting a scholarship because of who his dad was, not because of Chris' talent. They soon found out that wasn't the case.
He is proud of being Howie's son, but to show the kind of kid he is, he would never single out just his dad. He also credited his mom, Diane, who is a very special lady, with making him who he is, just as much as he credited Howie. He also shared all glory with his two younger brothers, Kyle, who may be a first-round baseball draft choice right out of high school, and little Howie, who will play lacrosse for Virginia.

Chris received an award in our state recently that honored the top college player who was from the state of Virginia. Chris asked his high school coach to be his presenter in order to give that coach credit for helping him reach his goals. He is a very thoughtful kid. He was one of UVa's best recruiters during his four years here because all the prospects coming in really liked him.

Q3. Did Howie ever interfere or give advice to Virginia head coach Al Groh on how to coach Chris?
A. Howie couldn't have been better in the way he has handled Chris' career at Virginia. He always preferred to stay in the background and wanted Chris to be known for what Chris accomplished and not for being Howie's son. I remember one game at Georgia Tech, where Howie was in a skybox watching Chris play and the TV cameras kept flashing to Howie over and over again. Howie was disturbed by it all because he wanted all the attention to focus on Chris and his teammates and not himself. From that point on, Howie would watch the game in a TV truck or try to hide somewhere the cameras couldn't find him.

No, Howie never interfered with how Al Groh coached Chris. As Al proudly points out, there were several times when Howie would come by to pay a cordial visit to pay respect to Al, and sometimes they would get into football conversations, and even the two of them get down in stances in Al's office because Al would be curious about picking Howie's brain on some things. But never at Howie's suggestion. Howie was very good about that. He would only help if asked, but never interjected himself into the equation otherwise.

Same with the way he handled Chris. If Chris came to him and asked him for help on a technique or philosophy or any type of tips, Howie would do anything to assist his son, but only if Chris asked for help.

Q4. Are there any other Virginia players that we should keep an eye on for this year's draft?
A. Yes, offensive guard Branden Albert. He might be the best offensive line prospect in the draft. He was first-team All-ACC as a junior this past season and decided to come out. He is huge, strong and is incredible on the move. He would fit in well with a team that likes to pull its guards to lead plays out on the edge. He was a player that Groh plucked out of suburban Baltimore late in the signing process. No one else wanted this kid, but Groh offered him a scholarship, Albert went to prep school for a year, then came in and started as a true freshman and started ever since.

Q5. Who are some of the future NFL prospects that we should pay attention to on the 2008 Virginia team?
A. I would think that rising senior left offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (6-6, 310) will be someone to keep an eye on. He was the No. 1 ranked offensive line prospect in the nation coming out of high school and should be a first-team All-ACC selection his final year.

Outside linebacker Clint Sintim, rising senior, should be someone worth watching. While it's early in his career, sophomore quarterback Peter Lalich, has a chance to make a big splash this coming season. He played some last year as a true freshman and the job should be his. Great arm. Reminds a lot of folks of Matt Schaub.

Two running backs bear watching: rising senior Cedric Peerman (led the ACC in rushing until injuring his foot midway through last season and didn't return), and the guy who replaced him, rising junior Mikell Simpson, who had the longest run by a running back in college football bowl history this past season against Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl.

Once again I want to thank Jerry for his time...

No comments: