One day, you’re the young star thrust into action early. The next, your glory days have gone the way of ragtime.
College football has gone by so fast for San Diego State nose guard Jerome Long.
“The other day, one of my friends and I were talking about how all the young guys that come in think the music we liked in high school is ‘old school’ already,” said the 2008 Morro Bay High graduate.
The 21-year-old senior from Los Osos isn’t going gray yet, but he’s embracing the concept of maturity. It’s definitely been a recurring theme this offseason and heading into Saturday’s season opener against visiting Cal Poly.
From pulling off a successful marriage proposal to anchoring a defense with close to a dozen inexperienced understudies, Long has grown up a lot since the last time he faced Cal Poly, a 29-27 season-opening upset victory by the Mustangs in 2008.
That night, Long played in his first college game as a true freshman and left with a sprained ankle. It was the first and only injury he’s had dating back to his days with the Pirates, when his massive frame dwarfed prep opponents.
Injuries on a thin defensive line forced him into action against Cal Poly, and Long — now a 6-foot-5, 290-pound NFL Draft prospect — finds himself in a similar situation three years later, only the young guys are now getting promoted around him.
With a talented offense led by senior quarterback Ryan Lindley, there is not much room for error for the youngsters on the Aztecs defense looking to help the team make a big run.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Long said, “but it’s also kind of like an urgency thing where I’m trying to help them get better as much as they can to be ready to play.”
Losing senior end Larry Gibbs to a foot injury leaves Long and senior J.J. Autele as the only upperclassmen on head coach Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 defensive line to start the season.
According to a San Diego Union-Tribune report, eight of the remaining 10 players on the defensive line are freshmen. The other two are sophomores, and only one has game experience.
“It’s been really awesome just knowing that all these younger guys feel comfortable if they need to come to me,” he said. “And if I approach them with something they need to get better at, they don’t feel like I’m trying to be hard on them. It’s constructive criticism.”
Life experience has aged Long as much as time. He proposed to fiancee and former San Diego State rower Kalynn Craig on stage at a crowded church function this offseason.
The couple is planning to get married next summer, and though Long will be available for cake tasting, he vowed not to get distracted by preparations.
A fringe pro prospect, Long’s draft stock could catapult with a productive year.
Both Lindy’s and Phil Steele picked him as a preseason all-Mountain West Conference first-team honoree, and Long certainly had some memorable plays last season.
He recorded 30 tackles, six for loss, and had 1 1⁄2 sacks. He also blocked his first career field goal in a game against Colorado State and recovered a fumble for a touchdown that helped San Diego State build a 14-0 lead over TCU in the Aztecs’ bid to end the Horned Frogs’ undefeated season.
Long is one of the San Diego State defenders Cal Poly has scouted. Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh was the offensive coordinator at Army when Long played at Morro Bay, but Walsh is well-aware of the former Pirates’ physical presence.
“He’s definitely a concern,” Walsh said. “He’s an outstanding football player. He’s big, strong, he’s quicker than we anticipated and he plays with real good pad level. Those are all things that add up to us being concerned about how he plays.
“I wish he would have stayed in town and played here, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Congratulate him again for what he’s accomplished, and some of the recognition he’s getting preseason, it’s deserved based on what we’re seeing.”