2013-03-17 / Sports

Younger Long blocking for Pittsburgh Steelers

BY MICHAEL SELECKY 810-452-2632 • mselecky@mihomepaper.com

Lapeer East grad and offensive tackle Joe Long during his senior season at Wayne State. 
Photos provided by Wayne State University Lapeer East grad and offensive tackle Joe Long during his senior season at Wayne State. Photos provided by Wayne State University PITTSBURGH — Because he wrapped up his career at Wayne State by winning the 2011-12 Upshaw Award as the top National Collegiate Athletic Association Div. II junior or senior lineman after leading the Warriors to the NCAA Div. II championship game, former Lapeer East athletic standout Joe Long has shown himself to be more than just a diamond in the rough.

That’s why the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League signed the offensive tackle to their practice squad on Nov. 28, 2012, a position Long held for the final five weeks of the season. During that time, Pittsburgh went 2-3, including victories at Baltimore, 23-20, on Dec. 2 and at home against Cleveland, 24-10, in the final game of the year on Dec. 30. For 2012, the Steelers went 8-8 overall and did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Former Eagle Joe Long originally signed with the Tennessee Titans before becoming a Pittsburgh Steeler during the 2012 National Football League season. Former Eagle Joe Long originally signed with the Tennessee Titans before becoming a Pittsburgh Steeler during the 2012 National Football League season. “He was a tremendous leader. When he played in the All-Star Game after his senior year, you could tell he was a leader for the kids he had only known for about a week,” said former Lapeer East football coach Brett Moore. “He has charisma and a great character. There was never a doubt that Joe is his own, a tremendous player that played with great passion and great heart. I think the future is very bright. He has tremendous family support and a great work ethic. You put those two factors together, and the future is very bright for him. Joe ‘engulfs’ defensive linemen and linebackers. He did that since high school. His arm strength and ability to keep defensive linemen away from him is very good. His footowrk has improved greatly. He moves really well for his size and he has great hands.”

Even though Long went undrafted, he was still able to sign shortly thereafter with the St. Louis Rams at the end of April, 2012, just in time for the squad’s rookie mini-camp in early May. Long then stayed with the Rams through the first round of training camp cuts on Aug. 27 when teams had to get down to 75 players from 90, before finally being released by head coach Jeff Fisher on Sept. 3.

“Joe has played against some of the best teams in the country during his career. He was prepared for this challenge,” said Wayne State University head coach Paul Winters after Long made 49- straight starts for the Warriors during his five-year career. “Joe is very aggressive and competitive on the field, and he is a good leader. He will continue to improve his strength and technique. Joe has been tremendous in every way. He has been a leader, a great person and a great football player. Prospects considered WSU just because we had Joe Long.”

Long helped solidify these beliefs at Pro Day on March 15, 2012, with a vertical leap of 27.5, a broad jump of 8’02” and by bench pressing 225 lbs. 21 times. In fact, www.nfldraftscout.com ranked Long, who stands in at 6-foot-6, 308 lbs., 45th in a field of 92 offensive tackles and 608th of the 1,971 players declared eligible for last year’s draft.

“Joe has devoted himself to becoming the best teammate, leader and offensive lineman that he can be. He exemplifies all of the fine qualities that you look for in a leader and offensive lineman. He is smart, tough, hardworking and dependable. That kind of dependability just doesn't happen. It requires mental and physical toughness to play through injury and fatigue,” said Wayne State offensive line coach Terry Heffernan. “He is a very big, strong and athletic guy and their are only so many of those guys on the planet. The NFL teams also love the fact that he is such a good person off of the field and can be trusted to be a professional. I think that Joe has a very realistic chance at success in the NFL. Joe's style of play is very aggressive and physical.”

The end result of all this is that Long was one of six players the Steelers signed to futures contracts on Jan. 2, 2013, alongside wide receivers Derek Moye and Bert Reed, cornerbacks Ross Ventrone and Isaiah Green and fellow offensive lineman Justin Cheadle, who originally signed with Pittsburgh on the same day that Long did. Currently, Long is listed as an active member of the Steelers’ roster according to www.cbssports.com/nfl heading into the 2013 NFL players draft April 25-27 in New York.

“I think Joe has a bright future in football from this point. He has a great resource in his brother, Jake, as far as how the process goes and the things he needs to do and work on,” said current Lapeer East varsity football coach and former WSU defensive back Jake Weingartz prior to the 2012 National Football League player entry draft. “Our families grew up together, so we have been very close for a long time and its great to see such a good person have all of this success. Joe deserves it. He is a source of pride for the Lapeer and Wayne State communities, and I know everyone is rooting for him and wishing him the best as he continues his football career. I have no doubt of that.”

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