Challenged to improve, Houston's Mac Long seized the opportunity
The message may have been harsh, but it was honest and clear. Frankly, it may have saved Mac Long’s collegiate career.
Last summer during one of Houston’s team brunches Long approached offensive line coach Derek Warehime and inquired as to where he stood going into what would be his redshirt junior season.
“He said, ‘To be honest I don’t know if you will play another snap of a D-1 football,’” Long recalled following Sunday’s practice. “I kind of took that personally. From that point on in the weight room, nutrition wise and on the scout team I wanted to get better every day. I wanted to prove somebody wrong.”
Long, now a fifth-year senior, had taken snaps with the Cougars. But they were mostly of the mop-up variety. He appeared in only 14 games during his first three seasons as an active player.
A year ago, when the team was on its way to winning the American Athletic Conference, defeating Florida State in the Peach Bowl and being ranked No. 8 in the country, Long spent most of his time with the scout team. That’s the last place a player at that stage of his career wants to be.
Fast-forward to last Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston where a packed house of 71,016 witnessed the Cougars knock off No. 3 Oklahoma, 33-23. Who was the right guard making the first start of his career? Yep. Long.
“I was real anxious and a little nervous going into it,” said Long, whose sixth-ranked Cougars appear on ASN Saturday at noon ET against Southland Conference opponent Lamar (0-1).
“Right before the ball snapped it got kind of got emotional for me. All the stuff I had been through kind of, I guess, started flashing before me. It was an awesome experience and the atmosphere was unbelievable.”
While he was ecstatic for the experience, do not expect Long to hang his hat on that one game.
“I am happy, but I am not satisfied,” said the 6-foot-4, 300-pound native of Edna, Texas, a town of 5,700 that is 100 miles southwest of Houston. “The first game of the season was a taste and I cannot get enough.”
What a difference a year makes. In the immediate aftermath of his talk with Warehime, Long was understandably downcast. He spoke with his father, Donnie, about finding a new address with which to continue his collegiate career. Or maybe putting football in his past.
“My dad and I had multiple conversations about that,” he said. “Last year after (speaking with Warehime) I was down and I thought about transferring to a smaller school, and maybe hanging it up completely. I am so glad I did not do that. Here at Houston we have a brotherhood that is not like anything else I have ever been a part of. That is part of the reason I stuck around. I love all these dudes that I play ball with.”
Plenty of people in the community are likely glad he stuck it out. Long, a retail consumer science major who might steer himself toward coaching at some point, has been giving of his time to youths through non-profits and elementary schools throughout Houston.
Among the organizations he has helped with are Feed the Children and Be A Champion. The latter supports underprivileged youths and was founded by former Cougars offensive linemen Jaron Barganier and James Hong.
“My dad always told me that if you can be an influence, then make sure it is in a positive way,” he said. “I feel like if that’s how everybody else could be, then the world would be a better place. I was blessed with a good family and we’re good financially, but not everybody has those blessings. I feel like if you can go out and make any positive impact on these kids’ lives, you never know, you might change them forever.”
Long is also doing his part in the classroom. He followed up a high school career in which he was a National Honor Society member by being a two-time conference all-academic member at Houston.
“My mom and dad told me that if you are going to do something you might as well do it right or not do it at all,” said Long, who enjoys fishing for gar in the bayous near campus and hunting white tail deer with his grandfather in Edna. “I also like learning different things. Knowledge is power, you know?”
Given what Long has been through he can deliver a pretty powerful message to anybody that might be in similar situation. Instead of giving in and giving up, plow through and the light at the end of the tunnel might be pretty bright.
“You can do anything once you put your mind to it,” he said. “I think sometimes as human beings we fool ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are doing everything we need to do and we’re asking, ‘Why, why, why?’
“Take a step back and look at yourself and do something extra. It is not just in sports, either. It’s also in life.”
Above: Mac Long, second from left, raised his game after being told he might never play another down of Division I football. (Courtesy @UHCougarFB)