Recruiting

Long surging to center of quarterback fray for 2014

Doug Marrone left and A.J. Long got closer to joining Syracuse.

Long, a junior and quarterback at Friendship Christian School in Lebanon, Tenn., didn’t know it at the time. He worried if the Orange and its new coaches would even still want him. They did.

“All the personalities matched with myself,” Long said. “I probably wouldn’t have ended up going to Syracuse had that old coaching staff still been there.”

Under Marrone, Long visited twice. Both times, SU felt like home. He said he liked the idea of the city being built on football and the chance to establish and re-establish the program. He said he felt like he was “supposed to there,” but that wasn’t reciprocated by Marrone and his staff.

Long has now been committed to the Orange for more than two weeks. And after a recruiting process – something he treats as a game – that began with a handwritten letter from UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Long is set to arrive on SU’s campus in 2014. Better still for Long, offensive coordinator George McDonald is telling the young quarterback that he is seen as a candidate to replace Charley Loeb — or whoever starts in 2013 — Long said.

“Coach McDonald said, the words in his mouth were, ‘We don’t have a quarterback on our roster that can do the things that we want to do,’” Long said. “And he was like, ‘You’re the guy that we want to run the system, too, because we know that you can do it even with your current height and weight. It doesn’t matter because you can do things that other quarterbacks can’t with your legs.’”

That all but sold Long. He had heard from college coaches spanning the country – from Oregon to Alabama. They all said the same things. “We want you here, you’d be a great fit for our school, just make sure you keep an eye on us,” Long recites. Marrone did it, too.

Long said 12 schools have offered him scholarships, but he can’t remember them all.

When McDonald explicitly laid out the when’s and why’s for Long’s commitment, though, he was in. He plans to graduate in December. He will take classes in the summer to fulfill his requirements in time, and he started this year with a 3.0 GPA. Long has one more core class in both math and science, and four electives to take before he gets his diploma.

Then, he will enroll at Syracuse for a wide-open quarterback competition in spring practice next year.

But since Long committed to the Orange on March 13, three more schools have offered scholarships, including Indiana and Western Kentucky, according to Friendship Christian School defensive coordinator Dwayne Lowe.

“With regards to A.J., he’s done,” Lowe said. “He’s very committed to Syracuse and he’s not going anywhere. It’s just kind of interesting that all these schools are kind of jumping on the bandwagon.”

Scout.com’s Brian Dohn expressed concern about Long’s arm strength, but Friendship Christian head coach John McNeal ‘s playbook is full of designed plays in which Long throws 60 yards across his body on the run.

McNeal also recalls walking into the team room before the 2012 season and seeing Long standing in front of the wall-length whiteboard he’d just filled with plays.

“Of course I’m sitting there asking him why he did this or did that,” McNeal said. “He wants to learn, and we try to go through the progressions and the ‘This is why we did this.’ So he’s a student of the game and he also picks it up pretty good.”

Long said the Syracuse offense under McDonald is a fusion of the spread, no-huddle offense he played in at Pius X in Bangor, Pa., as well as the I-formation and more under-center offenses he ran at Friendship Christian last year. This season, he’ll run a Pistol offense much like the one the San Francisco 49ers run.

When Long first arrived in Lebanon – he moved from Easton, Pa., where he lived with his father so he could finish high school with his mother – the Commanders were defending state champions. Long put a chip on his own shoulder to prove he belonged among his 2A champion teammates, despite the fact they’d already dropped their jaws at his highlights on YouTube.

Lowe said after the first set of preseason passing drills in July, the core receivers were already wowed, excited to play in the more pass-oriented offense McNeal had retooled for Long.

But it was on a bus ride back from FCS’s 68-26 win over Watertown (Tenn.) that Lowe saw the side of Long he shares with coaches that call and ask about Long’s intangibles. Long threw for 66 yards that day as the Commanders’ rushing attack dominated the game.

Long sat in his usual seat behind the coaches. McNeal turned to him and said, “Look man, I know you got to get you some stats.”

Said Lowe: “He stopped Coach McNeal in mid-sentence and said, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care if I throw for any yards as long as I win a state championship.’”

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