Austin Long wanted to score touchdowns in high school.
But the now-offensive tackle didn‚Äôt get the chance to get into the end zone because he sprouted too early.
‚ÄúI really wanted to play running back in high school, but that was a no,‚Äù he said, ‚Äúso they put me at offensive line. I was (just too) big.‚Äù
The 6-foot-5, 324 pound Memphis, Tenn., native was ranked on every national recruiting list imaginable coming out of high school.
He was crowned as a four-star recruit by Scout.com and regarded as the No. 6 offensive tackle in the country.
Two untimely back surgeries cost Long his entire freshman campaign with the Georgia
Bulldogs and he was only able to see scout team action as a
Ever since then it has been an uphill battle to return to form.
‚ÄúI think it took a while (to recover),‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúOnce I got back I started having little injuries here and there, but for the past year I‚Äôve been healthy and just been working hard and trying to get back to where I was in high school. I think I‚Äôm not 100 percent there as the best player as I can be, so I‚Äôve still got a lot of work to do.‚Äù
With five underclassmen battling for starting spots in the trenches, Long has emerged as a leader for the unit helping the younger athletes get settled in.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a great guy. He‚Äôs one of the first guys I pretty much got cool with and welcomed me in with open arms,‚Äù sophomore offensive tackle Mark Beard said. ‚Äú(He takes a) big brother type of role.‚Äù
Only three regular starters from last year‚Äôs offensive line returned this fall, opening up an opportunity for him to assert his role in the rotation.
In last week‚Äôs game against Buffalo, both right tackles ‚Äî John Theus and Watts Dantzler ‚Äî went down with ankle injuries allowing the ‚Äúbig brother‚Äù to see playing time early.
Long has come off the bench twice in his career, and it‚Äôs something he‚Äôs not afraid to do.
‚ÄúI was good. I wasn‚Äôt really nervous at all which was weird ‚Äî thought I would be,‚Äù he said, ‚Äúbut I felt good so it was fun.‚Äù
With both Theus and Dantzler banged up, head coach Mark Richt said Long needs to be ready at any moment to step in.
‚ÄúWe want him to fight for playing time. We want him to fight for an opportunity to start,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúLet‚Äôs say Theus gets in there and he guts it out for a while, but he can‚Äôt go anymore, then who‚Äôs going in? Whoever that is, whether it‚Äôs Austin, you‚Äôve got to prove you can do it. Sometimes that‚Äôs how guys win jobs.‚Äù
Regardless of what happens during the week in practice, Richt said the best way for Long to establish himself is to show him that he‚Äôs ready when his number gets called on Saturdays.
‚ÄúAll of a sudden they get in the game and they perform then all of sudden the coach says, ‚ÄòYou know what, I think he can do it,‚Äô‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs just got to always keep preparing for the moment that when he does get his chance, he shows Coach (Will) Friend and Coach (Mike) Bobo and myself that he‚Äôs ready.‚Äù
With the structure of the offensive line still up in the air, Long is excited to have a chance on a big stage.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a big motivator. Coming here, I‚Äôve always wanted to start,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúJust to be able to start such a big game like this ‚Äî first SEC game for Missouri ‚Äî it‚Äôs going to be a good game so I‚Äôm looking forward to (the opportunity).‚Äù