Recruiting

Cousins Long, Williams prepare to be reunited at Syracuse

Courtesy of A.J. Long

K.J. Williams (left) and A.J. Long (right) bring their near-lifelong bond to Syracuse next fall. The two cousins are recruits in the Orange's Class of 2014.

This past July, A.J. Long and K.J. Williams were like a well-oiled machine.

Williams was exactly where Long thought he would be on every route. And whenever Williams turned to receive a pass, Long had delivered it perfectly into his hands. They hadn’t seen each other in more than nine months, but the timing was crisp and the energy palpable.

For hours, they worked out alone behind a church in Bethlehem, Pa., fine-tuning a connection that is more than a decade old.

Aside from being two Syracuse football recruits in the Class of 2014, Long and Williams are also cousins with a collective dream that will be realized next fall. After being coaxed by Michigan, Williams committed to SU with Long in mind. For the Orange, the two will bring their own skill sets, unparalleled chemistry and a love for football rooted as much in each other as the game itself.

“I can’t describe how excited I am to play with him,” Long said. “We wanted to play with each other from the time we were little until we got to college. To be able to continue that is pretty cool and something we’ve always talked about.”

The field at which they met last July is the same field they grew up playing on. Each was 6 years old – Long the quarterback and Williams the running back for the Bethlehem Steelers in the 115-pound division.

As they grew up, Williams moved from the back field to wide receiver and became Long’s favorite target. They continued practicing as a pair, making sure to visit the field behind the church at least twice a month to polish their respective crafts.

By the time they were 12, playing football together was second nature.

“I remember feeling like I was inside his head all the time,” Williams said. “Like I knew where he wanted me to go and that if I got there he’d make the throw.”

Long recalls Williams remedying the growing pains Long faced as a young, developing quarterback.

When they were both 13, Long threw an errant pass intended for his cousin. When it left his hand, he thought an interception or incompletion was the only plausible outcome. But Williams leapt into the air, reached back with his left hand and hauled it in for a big gain.

“He’s a freak athlete. We were just kids and he was making plays you’d see in the NFL,” Long said. “If there’s one thing he is, it’s a playmaker. He always has been.”

But when it came time for high school, Long and Williams weren’t able to play together. Before moving to Tennessee where he now attends the Friendship Christian School, Long went to St. Pius X High School, a Catholic school in Pottsgrove, Pa.

Since St. Pius X was more than an hour away from where they both grew up, Williams instead attended Liberty High School, a public school in the Bethlehem Area School District. If they wanted to utilize years of regimented rehearsal, it would have to be at the collegiate level.

“Since we didn’t play together in high school, we always talked about playing college together,” Williams said. “We didn’t know it would be Syracuse, but we knew it would happen.”

The decision was easier for Long than it was for Williams. A two-star recruit, Long received offers from a handful of notable programs – UCLA and Arizona among them – but was always interested in Syracuse. He verbally committed last March.

Long’s commitment caught Williams’ attention. As a four-star recruit, he is out of Syracuse’s recent price range. But Long, along with current wide receiver Jarrod West – also Williams’ cousin – lobbied for him to choose SU.

So when his decision came down to Syracuse and Michigan — a Big Ten powerhouse versus family — Williams chose family.

“Teenagers always overthink things and second-guess themselves,” said John Truby, Williams’ coach at Liberty. “But he wanted to play with A.J. and I think that was a big factor in his decision.”

July 7 was at one time an ordinary night for Long. He kicked back with family and friends at a birthday party and enjoyed the fresh, summer air.

But a few minutes after 5 p.m., a casual scroll through the Twitter feed on his phone sent him running amok. In two consecutive tweets, Williams verbally committed to Syracuse.

A lifetime of anticipation boiled down to one moment, and an unbreakable bond validated hours of unseen work.

His excitement was, at the very least, uncontainable.

“I didn’t know what else to do so I just started sprinting around the block,” Long said. “Everyone probably thought I was crazy but it was like something I can’t describe. Now I just can’t wait to get on the field with him again.”

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