Left tackle Kyle Long (Courtesy of Saddleback Athletics Department)
The 2011 season for the Saddleback football team was one of the greatest offensive years in the program’s history. The 2011 squad was led by star quarterback Ben Gomez, who set records for most touchdowns, completions an passing yards in a single season, by a Gaucho. One of the biggest keys to Gomez’s success was the high level performance from the players on the offensive line. This year, two of the players from that offensive line, left tackle Kyle Long and right tackle Menelik Watson, are entering the NFL Draft.
Long, a 6-foot-7-inch senior at the University of Oregon this season, comes from a major football family. His older brother, Chris Long, was the second overall pick in the 2008 draft and plays defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, and his father, Howie Long, is a Hall of Fame defensive end for the Oakland and St. Louis Raiders. Long was a two sport athlete in high school, playing for the St. Anne’s-Belfield School baseball and football teams. In 2008, Long was drafted as a pitcher by the Chicago White Sox in the 23rd round. He ended up not signing with Chicago, instead opting to continue his career pitching for Florida State University. Before he ever threw a pitch for the FSU Seminoles, Long left the university due to poor academics, and moved to southern California.
Long’s football career with the Gauchos began in the fall of 2010, when he recorded 16 tackles and one sack playing defensive end for Saddleback. The following year, he shifted positions from the defensive line to the offensive line, where he took over the role of starting left tackle. When asked, Long said that he enjoyed his time playing for the Gauchos. “My playing time at Saddleback was a great experience. It was my first college football environment,” Long said. “Saddleback is often a stepping stone for people who are trying to get to the next level, and that’s definitely what it was for me.”
After an 8-3 season that ended with a bowl appearance, and earning first team all-conference honors, Long committed to playing for the University of Oregon Ducks in December 2011. “Oregon was a great option for me,” Long said. “With the one year window that I had to play Division-I football, I wanted to showcase all of my athletic ability and my football skills, and in that offense I really feel like it was the best way to showcase it.”
In his lone season with the Ducks, Long appeared in several positions, including left tackle, right tackle, and left guard. The Ducks capped off their 13-1 season with a 35-17 win in the Fiesta Bowl over Kansas State. Long attempted to appeal for another year of eligibility to play from the NCAA, but his request was denied.
One month before the NFL Combine, and three months before the draft itself, CBSSports.com has projected Long as potentially being a second round pick. They have Long ranked as the 53rd best overall player, and the sixth best offensive tackle prospect in the draft. When informed about his ranking, Long said that it was a blessing to be on people’s radar even though he had just been playing at the junior collegiate level the year before. “There has been so many blessings in my life,” Long said. “I’m just very grateful to have the opportunity to play the game I love, and to have the possibility or chance to get to the next level.”
When draft day comes, college players have no control over which team will end up selecting them. That doesn’t stop players from thinking of where they would like to play. Long said that he would love to be able to play for the St. Louis Rams with his older brother Chris, and he would also like it if he was to be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he could be reunited with former University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who signed a five year contract with Philadelphia this offseason. “I’d love to play for Coach Kelly,” Long said. “I’ve played for Coach Kelly, and I know what he brings to the table as a coach, how he treats his players, and that would be a great experience”
Before joining the Gauchos in 2011, Watson had never played a game of football at the high school or college level. The 6-foot-6-inch Manchester, England native instead grew up playing soccer and basketball before he came to the United States to play basketball for the Marist College Red Foxes. Watson played at Marist from 2009 to 2011, before moving to Orange County and joining the Gauchos.
Long remembered the first day of practice in 2011, when he saw Watson take the field as a defensive end. “I remember sneaking out an extra offensive line jersey to practice, and I told him to put it on and said that he would play right tackle ad I would play left tackle,” Long recalled. “Sure enough, he ended up being our starting right tackle. He’s a great kid, a great athlete, and a very hard worker.”
He played in eight games for the Gauchos before transferring to Florida State University the following year. At Florida State, Watson started in all 12 games for the Seminoles at right tackle, and received honorable mention All-ACC honors for his outstanding performance. Earlier this month, Watson declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft as a junior.
According to CBSSports.com, Watson is ranked as the 10th best offensive tackle prospect, and is projected to be taken in the third round. However, his ranking as a third round pick is not a consensus projection among draft analysts. ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Watson as a first round pick in the draft, going to the Indianapolis Colts with the 24th overall pick. In an online chat later that day on ESPN.com, Kiper defended his decision to have Watson ranked so highly.
“He’s 6-6, 320 and has great feet,” Kiper said. “He was a (heck of a) player at FSU this year at (right tackle). He’ll be a 23 year old rookie, but all of the top programs wanted him. I like his long arms, his feet. He’s a little raw now, but has a lot of upside.”
The Lariat was able to reach Watson prior to the writing of this article, but he declined to comment until after the NFL Combine at the end of February.
NFL Draft Coverage from CBSSports.com
NFL Draft Coverage from ESPN.com
Kyle Long CBS Sports profile
Menelik Watson ESPN Profile
Kyle Long ESPN Profile
Right tackle Menelik Watson (Courtesy of Saddleback Athletics Department)