By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Standing proud with his future in a Bears uniform ahead, Kyle Long couldn’t forget those from the past who helped him reach this point.
Wednesday brought a time for reflection, with Long awarded a four-year contract extension reportedly worth $40 million, with $30 million in guarantees. His future in Chicago is secure through 2021 and likely well beyond. Quickly, his special human qualities showed. Long wanted to express his gratitude for those close to him, and there are many.
Long thanked his parents, who raised him the right way; his brothers Chris and Howie, who serve as a support system; former Bears general manager Phil Emery, who believed in him; and so many more. He also offered a special message to a man who was there during difficult days.
“My junior college coach, coach Mark McElroy, who is somebody who took me under his wing when I was going through a lot of tough things,” Long said Wednesday afternoon at Halas Hall. “Coach Mac, if you read this, I appreciate it. You’ve impacted me in ways you’ll never know.”
The sentiment was mutual.
“Kyle has impacted me in ways he’ll never know,” McElroy said via phone Wednesday night.
Seven-and-a-half years ago, Long was a promising pitching prospect at Florida State when he was booked for a DWI. He blew 0.10 and was booked. It was a mistake that wouldn’t define his journey.
Long left his baseball career at Florida State, moved home to California and took his life down a new path, playing the game of football. He enrolled at Saddleback and began playing for McElroy’s program.
“He just needed to have opportunity — that’s all,” McElroy said. “He just needed to get through a few moments in his life that he struggled with to become the man that he’s becoming right now.
“He’s a special human being.”
From his days at Saddleback, then up north to Oregon, Long began his maturation into the man who stood before the media Wednesday at Halas Hall. When Emery chose Long with the 20th pick of the 2013 draft, all that many observers knew was that he’s the son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long and wasn’t expected to be a first-round pick.
Long appreciates his path to today and those who helped him along the way. He also recognized what got him this far.
“For me, life is improving every day, making those around you better and improving the mindset and mind state of those around you,” Long said.
Through some tough times emerged the Long we know today, everything the Bears could’ve asked for.
Long’s leadership is a constant for this young Chicago team. At 27 years old, he’s the third-longest-tenured current Bear, trailing only Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery in experience. He won’t be going anywhere soon.
“I’m going to be here for a long time,” Long said. “I’m going to retire as a Chicago Bear. And that’s what I’m excited about.”
Added Bears coach John Fox: “He’s an important part of the foundation we’re building here for the future.”
The Bears can set their watch to Long — his consistency, professionalism and, of course, dominance on the offensive line. Long has earned Pro Bowl honors in each of his first three seasons, joining elite franchise company like Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Brian Urlacher and more.
Reflecting on Wednesday, Long recalled standing before the media at Halas Hall four years earlier as an unproven prospect who few expected would land in Chicago. Even Long admitted to the “surprise” of going 20th overall to the Bears.
Long was overwhelmed by his chance.
“I just remember my jaw dropped,” Long said.
Playing for a heritage franchise like the Bears in a first-class city like Chicago was what Long dreamed of. He instantly fell in love with his new home. The Bears quickly found that their raw lineman out of Oregon was a mauler who would soon become a cornerstone for their future.
Those special human qualities are what those close to Long see each day. While glancing ahead, a smile on his face, Long couldn’t help but to recall the people who helped him reach today. They’re beaming with joy, too.
“I’m proud of him,” McElroy said, “just because I got to know him.”