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December 8, 2017

A Long Development

Ty Long watched the 105th Grey Cup from the cozy confines of his offseason home in Birmingham, Alabama. Despite the 65 -degree (Fahrenheit) southern temperatures and ability to walk outside in shorts and a t-shirt, the BC Lions kicker admits he was on edge as his fellow counterparts Lirim Hajrullahu and Rene Paredes tried to perfect their craft in the blizzard conditions at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium.

“It was crazy: I get more nervous watching (cold weather games) than actually playing in them. When you’re in it you actually have control and can get comfortable in the situation,” Long said.

“When I’m watching Toronto’s kicker hit that field goal it is like ‘oh my gosh. I have no control over that.’ I want all of the kickers and punters to do well. That was an awesome situation that I would love to be in with a chance to win the Grey Cup.”

Ty Long and QB/holder Alex Ross embrace after a successful field goal attempt at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field. Photo: Canadian Press.

The closest Long and the 2017 Lions came to those weather conditions was a victory in Winnipeg on October 28th. No snow fell, but the prairie winds presented some difficult challenges for the kicking game and made things particularly chilly for those standing still on the sidelines. This writer can attest to that one for sure. Although it still paled in comparison to the Grey Cup conditions, the Investors Group Field breeze was still cause for some adjustment.

“It was sort of like a situation where no one feels sorry for you. I just tried to do my job. I had a pretty solid game,” the kicker explained.

“It just comes down to the fact no one watching cares that it is cold. You’re paid to make it happen in any conditions. Once you get warm and into it you enjoy the adversity and try to make the most of it.”

Adversity is something the CFL newcomer had to deal with head on in his rookie season. After beating out veteran Swazye Waters for the kicking gig, the product of Alabama-Birmingham got a taste of how difficult things can get when he missed a crucial go-ahead convert late in the season opening loss to Edmonton June 24th.

“That was probably the first time in my career where I missed a kick like that. It was a situation where I could have listened to all of the negative feedback on Twitter or just continued to do my job,” he said.

“I think I came back and learned from it by getting better each week. Even the next game at Toronto I went 3-for-3 and began to limit those rookie mistakes. I enjoy doing all three kicking duties and really enjoy playing in BC. I tried to make the most out of every game and get better every single week.”

Ty Long gets a punt away during a July 15th victory over Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field. Photo: Johany Jutras.

And he did just that. Along with making 18 straight field goals to end his season and hitting 22 of 23 overall attempts from inside the 40-yard line, Long was also the CFL’s leading punter. That production in the punt game is a testament to how his directional kicking improved greatly from the start of the year.

“If I can be real with you, the same people who were talking then (on social media) were the same people congratulating me at the end of the season. When all that happens you don’t read much into it,” Long said.

“At the end of the day I knew my teammates had my back and I had theirs. We’re all human; it is just that our successes and mistakes are put on a bigger level on national TV week in and week out. That just comes with the business.”

Not only did he get named as a CFL Western Division All-Star, Long also received the club’s nomination for both Most Outstanding Rookie and Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. He insists it would not have happened without all of the guidance he received from coaches and fellow teammates.

“I’ve said this many times, there are not many better people to learn from than Swayze Waters. We roomed together in camp. Obviously some may see that as an awkward situation, but for us it was fine,” Long explained.

“At the end of the day, he just had to do his job and I just had to do mine. If I had a question for Swayze he would never hesitate to help out. Mike Benson was huge on just being there for both of us and not being biased. He just wanted to win. Mike wound up being huge all season to lean on and be a good friend. Cello (special teams coordinator Marcello Simmons) was awesome because he put me in good situations and let me do what I do best.

Sometimes it can be tough and you can get a coach who tries to change or do things to benefit him more so than the player. Cello just let me do what I do best. To have a leader like Wally was huge. I can’t say enough good things about all of them. They were all great.”

2017 taught everyone in the organization that previous success is not guaranteed to repeat itself. With that in mind, Long is already hard at work training for year two. The offseason has already been productive for another big reason: Ty became engaged to long-time girlfriend Cara Crumpton; a member of the Alabama-Birmingham cheerleading team while Long was playing for the Blazers.

“Cara has been huge with supporting me because it’s not easy when you pursue a career in the pros and have to leave home and all that stuff,” Long added.

“She managed to make it up for a few days and saw one of our games. Family time will also be important over the holidays. I will head back to see relatives in Roswell, Georgia and also heading to Nashville to spend New Years Eve with some buddies. It will be nice to some short breaks.”

The work and life balance is indeed important this time of year. The end goal remains the same: to be dealing with the snowy elements at the end of next November. Edmonton might be the perfect place for it.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com