The Canadian Press
To some, it might have seemed unconventional to have seen Ty Long’s name slotted in under most outstanding player.
His special teams nomination was a no-brainer. But top player?
When it comes to team awards, though, ask yourself where the BC Lions might be without Ty Long?
“We’ve got nine wins but when you look at those nine wins, the majority of them have come because we’ve won the field position battle and Ty’s a big part of that,” BC Lions special team coordinator Jeff Reinebold said of Long.
“We’re asking him to do an awful lot of things and he’s gone out and performed in the clutch every time. He’s had two walk-off field goals for (wins) and he’s improved in every aspect of his game, when you look at him statistically last year to this year, he’s really grown. I think he has a really, really bright future.”
The second-year kicker from Roswell, Georgia found a way to build off his all-star rookie season. His net yards are at 4,293, up 310 over last year’s total. He’s made 43-49 field goals this year, good for 87.8 per cent, which is just a tinge under last year’s 88.6 per cent, with Saturday’s regular-season finale against Calgary giving him a chance to tweak those numbers a little more. He’s also hit six field goals over 50 yards this year, which is second in the league to Hamilton’s Lirim Hajrullahu.
Long went into the season with special teams player of the year as a goal, but hadn’t considered that he could be named by local media the best player on his team.
“To be voted MOP for the team, that’s pretty cool,” he said in the Lions locker room after practice on Thursday.
“I never really thought that would happen but I’m thankful for the people that voted for me. My goal is to go out there each week when they call my name and do what they ask me to do.”
Long is different than many American players that make their way to the CFL, who find out that Canada has its own league after a team has reached out to them. Kicking at Alabama-Birmingham from 2011-2014, he was very much aware of the situation ahead of him if he was to pursue a pro career.
“I grew up knowing the chances of kickers getting jobs. There are 41,” he said.
“There are a few up here and then the 32 (in the NFL). There are 41 jobs in the world, so I knew how tough it can be. I knew a lot of good guys come up here and play in the CFL their whole career and then some guys come up here and go back down.”
It makes you wonder, with Long only 25 years old and a potentially long career in front of him, where it’ll all play out.
“I love it up here. I love playing for the BC Lions,” he said. “At the end of the day though,” — Odell Willis interrupts here from the locker next door to say that Long will go to the NFL — “I’ve got to do what’s best for me and my future family. I love playing up here but if I get a good opportunity, you never know what could happen.”
Reinebold sees that as an option too.
“I think his best football is still out in front of him. Everybody asks me all the time about him,” he said.
“I’ve had guys call me about him, NFL guys I know, and I just tell them that I think he’s just now beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. You’ve got to understand that Ty was not a three-way guy coming out of college and he’s really made himself into that. Whatever happens in his future, I’m sure he’s going to be successful, with whatever team or in whatever league he’s playing in.”
Long isn’t looking past this league or its opportunities. There’s this week’s game against Calgary, where a BC win would spoil the Stamps’ hopes of hosting the Western Final on Nov. 18. There’s also the idea of closing out the regular-season with a win and carrying some momentum into the Ticats’ crossover date on Nov. 11.
About that Ticats’ team…
“They’re going to bring it, they’re going to try to block every punt. If not block it they’re going to be diving under my legs, you know?” Long said. “For whatever reason those guys don’t like me, but I welcome it. It’s all right.”
Sure, in name the Lions and the Tiger-Cats should be a natural rivalry, but given the distance between the two teams (just over 4,000 kms) and the fact that most seasons they only see each other twice a year, it seems unlikely. Those two regular-season meetings were enough to build up some very legitimate beef. It started with the Lions’ comeback win in overtime (on Long’s 39-yard field goal) in BC on Sept. 22. Hamilton responded in kind with a resounding 40-10 win a week later at Tim Horton’s Field.
That game was full of pre and extra-curriculars. The Ticats were angered by the Lions dancing on their logo in their walkthrough at centre field the day before the game. Long was bumped by the Ticats in the pregame and a fight broke out between players from both teams after the game. That they get to meet once more this year with their seasons on the line is almost poetic.
“We hit a game-winning kick on them at home and we didn’t mean to dance on their logo,” Long said. “People blew it out of proportion but they took it however they want. We’ll be ready.”