Austin Long wanted to score touchdowns in high school.
But the now-offensive tackle didn’t get the chance to get into the end zone because he sprouted too early.
“I really wanted to play running back in high school, but that was a no,” he said, “so they put me at offensive line. I was (just too) big.”
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.
“I think it took a while (to recover),” he said. “Once I got back I started having little injuries here and there, but for the past year I’ve been healthy and just been working hard and trying to get back to where I was in high school. I think I’m not 100 percent there as the best player as I can be, so I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
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.
“He’s a great guy. He’s one of the first guys I pretty much got cool with and welcomed me in with open arms,” sophomore offensive tackle Mark Beard said. “(He takes a) big brother type of role.”
Only three regular starters from last year’s offensive line returned this fall, opening up an opportunity for him to assert his role in the rotation.
In last week’s game against Buffalo, both right tackles — John Theus and Watts Dantzler — went down with ankle injuries allowing the “big brother” to see playing time early.
Long has come off the bench twice in his career, and it’s something he’s not afraid to do.
“I was good. I wasn’t really nervous at all which was weird — thought I would be,” he said, “but I felt good so it was fun.”
With both Theus and Dantzler banged up, head coach Mark Richt said Long needs to be ready at any moment to step in.
“We want him to fight for playing time. We want him to fight for an opportunity to start,” Richt said. “Let’s say Theus gets in there and he guts it out for a while, but he can’t go anymore, then who’s going in? Whoever that is, whether it’s Austin, you’ve got to prove you can do it. Sometimes that’s how guys win jobs.”
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’s ready when his number gets called on Saturdays.
“All of a sudden they get in the game and they perform then all of sudden the coach says, ‘You know what, I think he can do it,’” Richt said. “He’s 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’s ready.”
With the structure of the offensive line still up in the air, Long is excited to have a chance on a big stage.
“It’s a big motivator. Coming here, I’ve always wanted to start,” he said. “Just to be able to start such a big game like this — first SEC game for Missouri — it’s going to be a good game so I’m looking forward to (the opportunity).”