Kickers and punters don't get a lot of mention in this space. But today it's time to praise one of the more prolific punters in Big East history: Syracuse's Rob Long.
The senior was one of seven Division I punters named to the Ray Guy Award watch list this preseason. He was a semifinalist for the award last year, as well as a first-team All-Big East selection. His 42.83 yards-per-punt career average ranks second among active FBS punters. And he has an outside shot of breaking the Big East record for career punting yardage.
But what might be even more impressive about Long is that his teammates voted their punter a team captain last season.
"That isn't something you see every day," Long said. "I try to lead by example and do the right things in the classroom and on the field. A lot of my leadership comes in the locker room."
Here is where you can make the joke that Long gets more practice than other punters because Syracuse has been so bad. And it's true that the career league punting yardage record is held by Long's immediate predecessor on the Orange, Brendan Carney (Long needs 2,925 punting yards to surpass him). But Syracuse is improving, and that means potentially fewer punts this season.
"I'm perfectly all right with that," Long says.
Long also knows that some people see his numbers and dismiss them because his home stadium, the Carrier Dome, is indoors. But his longest boot of the 2009 season was a 63-yarder at Louisville.
"I'm not going to lie, it's nice punting indoors," he said. "But half the games we play are outdoors anyway. And we practice outside, so it's not something foreign to me."
Long was also the holder on field goals and extra points and handled kickoffs for the Orange last year. No wonder he was the only specialist brought to Newport, R.I., for Big East media day this summer.
Long says he "stumbled into" becoming a punter. He was a hockey player at his Pennsylvania high school until one day he stood around the football field waiting for his friends to finish practice. He started kicking a ball around, and the football coach said he was looking for a field goal kicker. A year or two later, Long figured he ought to learn how to punt, too.
Syracuse offered him a scholarship. That proved to be a wise investment.