How football helped save Kyle Long's life

How football helped save Kyle Long's life
April 26, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Jake Flannigan

Football was never Kyle Long's first love. As a child he quit the sport because he was restricted from touching the ball due to a youth league weight limit. Long would try other sports, but he found that he excelled the most in baseball.

After developing on the mound as a pitcher, Long was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 23rd round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Instead of jumping into a career right away, Long decided to head to college at Florida State.

[RELATED: Long selection highlights changes in Bears draft philosophy]

Little did he know at the time, Long would never throw one pitch for the Seminoles and the next year would be the most challenging of his life.

“Coming from a family with a very firm support system, you know [with] curfews there’s no time to screw up,” Long told Yahoo! Sports. “My first time away from home was the summer of 2008 and I screwed up.”

The freedom Long had experienced was something he was clearly not ready to handle.

[MORE: Eagles OL pick at No. 4 could be Bears' role model]

“I was messing up off the field. I spent probably more time out and about partying and being social than I did in the batting cage, in the bullpen or the classroom. That became my life."

In January, Long was arrested for a DUI, and then left school and entered a four-month treatment program in Arizona to help put an end to his substance abuse problems.

In less than a year Long went from being on top of the world to hitting rock bottom. His baseball career was over. His future, a blank a slate.

“The day that I got out of treatment I told my case manager that I wanted to play football again," Long said. "I had a lot of pent up aggression and stuff I needed to release physically."

Long's plan was to enroll at a junior college to create a new beginning in the classroom and on the football field. He chose Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, where at the age of 21 he would become infatuated with the game of football for the first time in his life.

[MORE: Board breaks right for Bears]

Football was a family tradition for Long. His father Howie played 13 seasons with the Oakland Raiders, where he would become a Super Bowl champion, an eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end and eventually a Hall-of-Famer. Kyle's older brother Chris was a star defensive end at the University of Virginia and developed into a first-round draft pick for the St. Louis Rams.

So it was only natural Long gravitated to the defensive end position his first year at Saddleback. Long recorded only 16 tackles and one sack before deciding to switch to the other side of the ball and try to become an offensive lineman. The results were much more rewarding and eventually would earn Long a scholarship at the University of Oregon.

The Ducks' depth chart was jam-packed with talent, but Long only had one season to try to make an instant impression on the field. After starting the season as a rotational player at offensive tackle, Long wondered if he would ever get a chance to prove to himself and to the world that he was a football player.

“I knew if I had one shot to put some film together as a starting offensive lineman in D-1, I might have a shot at going and playing somewhere the next year. Somewhere, I could make a living at playing ball."

Long finally saw his opportunity come when Oregon's starting left guard went down with an injury.

“When our left guard went down I jumped and ran to our coaches office," Long said.

[RELATED -- Bears Draft Capsule: OL Kyle Long]

The Oregon coaching staff would grant Long his wish, as he was named starter for the ninth game of the season against Southern California. The undefeated Ducks would score a blistering 62 points in a victory over USC that night, proving Long was the man for the job at left guard.

Oregon finished the season with an 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl win. Just when it seemed like Long's college career was taking off, it was grounded. But, Long had proved enough to receive an invite to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, where he would quickly become a player league scouts became enamored with.

On Thursday night the Chicago Bears selected Long with the 20th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, adding yet another surprising twist to his journey. Long knew he had impressed scouts with his workouts, but he was not expecting to see his stock soar as high as it did on draft night.

[WATCH -- Long: Some people have a chip on their shoulder; I feel I have a whole lumber yard]

Now Long is a Bear. He eat, sleeps and drinks football, not unlike most in the NFL, but strangely it's a little different for Long.

“I’m forever indebted to football because it was my savior," Long said. “My family was my support system, but football is the cradle. Football is like my crib, it keeps me fenced in."

There are many questions to be answered about Long's future in Chicago. Will he be a productive starter right away? Can he continue to develop his skills? How high is his ceiling?

No one knows the answers to all of these questions about what lies ahead for Long. But, if his ability to bounce back and make something of his life is any evidence, he'll do just fine.

All quotes in this story are from the Yahoo! Sports video "Dream Chasers", directed by Lukas Korver and produced by Rand Getlin.