Keeping Score: Hunter Long's gridiron ascension

  • Boston College tight end Hunter Long hauls in a reception during the Eagles’ game against North Carolina last weekend in Chestnut Hill. The former Deerfield Academy star has already racked up 25 receptions and two touchdowns in three games this season. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BOSTON COLLEGE ATHLETICS

  • Hunter Long, left, with best friend Dallas Hobbs after football practice on a snowy day in 2016. Long is a tight end at Boston College and Hobbs is a defensive lineman at Washington State. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 10/9/2020 5:33:44 PM

Good morning!
New Hampshire isn’t exactly an NFL hotbed, having produced a scant 24 players since the league’s inception in 1920, according to pro-football-reference.com. The only New Hampshire-born player on an NFL roster today is Ryan Griffin of the New York Jets, who played at Londonderry High School.

Not a hotbed indeed, but insiders think BC tight end Hunter Long might be the next New Hampshire native to make the NFL. Long was born and raised in Exeter and played for longtime coach Bill Ball at Exeter High School, followed by a PG year at Deerfield Academy.

Long needed the extra year in order to keep growing. “Hunter came and watched us play a night game,” said Big Green coach Brian Barbato. “He was 18 years old and weighed 210 pounds. The next time I saw him he was at 238.”

And still growing; today he’s listed at 6-5, 253 pounds.

College sports is about networking, and Barbato’s trajectory was similar to Long’s. Born and raised in Exeter, Barbato played for the Blue Hawks in the 1990s. “I won two state championships playing for Coach Ball. He runs the show.”

At Deerfield, Long competed with and against players of his own caliber. His best friend, Dallas Hobbs, is now a defensive lineman at Washington State. Last year, Barbato coached players who signed letters of intent to Dartmouth, Penn, Georgetown and Central Michigan.

As for Long, Barbato said, “We did everything with him, flexed him out as a receiver, put him on defense, used him in bubble screens. He caught a lot of balls with a broken hand. I have him down for eight games, 30 catches, 504 yards, two touchdowns and 18 yards per catch.”

By the end of the year scout.com ranked him as the best tight end in Massachusetts.

(When Deerfield alumni hear “tight end” they think Pete Varney, the PGer from North Quincy who went to Harvard and caught the 2-point conversion that “beat” Yale, 29-29, in 1968.)

One of the first college recruiters to get wind of Long’s ability was Jim Reid, who in 2016 was BC’s defensive coordinator. “I can’t remember exactly how I got his name,” Reid said in a phone interview. “I think Brian may have asked if we were recruiting Hunter Long. I coached Brian’s father at UMass. Dennis Barbato’s a great guy and a great football player.”

Like father like son, except Brian went to UNH where he started 37 games and played all five offensive line positions for coach Sean McDonnell. After he graduated he stayed in the game as a coach, and during a two-year stint at St. Lawrence University he earned his master’s degree in education.

He was named Deerfield’s head coach in 2015, and each spring he hosts a PG orientation day and invites high school kids from western Mass. to work out in front of dozens of college coaches. Four years ago the group included Reid and BC tight ends coach Frank Leonard.

Afterward Reid called Barbato and asked, “‘How come this kid doesn’t have offers?’ I called BC and told them, ‘We gotta offer this kid, he has a chance to be a great player.’”

Leonard concurred. “I’ve coached Division I for 14 years and knew right away he was something special,” said the former Patriot scout and LA Rams tight ends coach.

Leonard brought his stopwatch to the next tryout for a 40-yard dash. “I personally timed him at 4.59 (seconds). We knew we had something. He ate up this defensive back who was a Michigan commit. We were holding our breath hoping someone like Penn State or Don Brown at Michigan wasn’t seeing this.”

Signing day was still months away, but Reid knew they had to get Long committed sooner rather than later. “Once he’s at Deerfield, we’re not going to get him because Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, they’re all going to want him. They’ll see his times are wide receiver times and for a guy his size, that’s ridiculous.”

Reid visited Long’s family for a glimpse of his home life. “This guy builds computers from scratch,” he marveled. “He doesn’t buy kits, he builds them. He’s a computer genius, he’ll be like Steve Jobs. I’m like ‘Holy mackerel!’ And the parents are perfect. It was a magnificent, middle-class, wonderful home.”

Long’s matriculation at Deerfield added to his luster. “Brian Barbato did a wonderful job,” said Leonard. “He continued to develop Hunter in a spiritual and physical way. Brian’s a quality guy and so is Hunter, so that was a great marriage.”

After the spring orientation, scholarship offers started rolling in from weaker FBS and FCS programs. First Fordham offered him, then UNH, URI, Holy Cross and UConn. He visited BC and was offered, but chose not to commit. “I felt if we tried to push him we’d lose him,” said Reid.

According to 247sports’ recruiting timeline, Long was interested enough in Mark Whipple’s pass-oriented offense at UMass that he returned for the team’s annual clambake in August.

Later that summer, he visited Syracuse and Penn State, but neither school offered him — not yet, they said. “I don’t think other schools did their homework recruiting Hunter,” said Leonard. “He’s very athletic, extremely intelligent and tough. A very focused individual, extremely focused.”

Shortly after the UMass clambake on Aug. 13, 2016, Long committed to BC. As Reid had predicted, other schools continued to try and entice him to de-commit, but on National Signing Day he inked his letter of intent to play at BC and by June he was enrolled in the school of computer science.

“He was going to stay committed to us,” said Reid. “He was different. I could tell the way he looked me in the eye.”

Long redshirted his first year, went to class, studied the playbook and played on the scout team. In 2018, he played in 12 games but caught just four passes. Last year, he had 28 catches for 509 yards but wasn’t an integral part of coach Steve Addazio’s offense.

“He probably could’ve started but we had some players who had paid their dues,” said Leonard. “He’s a loyal guy. Hunter Long never, ever complained about playing time. He’s a competitive sonuva buck, but he’s a team-oriented guy.”

In December, Addazio was fired along with Reid, Leonard and the rest of the staff. The Eagles had under-performed under Addazio, going 44-44 during his seven year tenure at the Heights.

New coach Jeff Hafley brought in quarterback Phil Jurkovec, a 6-5, 250-pound transfer from Notre Dame, and installed a multiple pro set offense. Suddenly, Hunter Long became a prime target and budding star. At this writing, BC’s No. 80 leads FBS tight ends in catches (25) and yards per game (90).

The Eagles (2-1) are six point underdogs against Pitt (3-1) this afternoon at the Heights. Reid said he wouldn’t be surprised if Long helps the Eagles pull off the upset. “They’re using him really, really well. If he comes out this year or next, he’s a first rounder. I can’t tell you how excited I am for him and his entire family.”

SQUIBBERS: After Sunday’s win against Justin Herbert and the San Diego Chargers, Tom Brady is now 20-5 when facing rookie QBs. Advantage Tom in the Brady-Belichick saga. … Boomer Esiason on Monday night’s Patriot loss: “They took one on the chin for the NFL. What they went through to get to the game, they could’ve really pushed back and said we’re not playing. It was a pretty amazing performance, at least for the first three quarters.” … Army was a 32½-point favorite to beat Abilene Christian and won, 55-23. … Another skater from the inaugural season of the Greenfield Men’s Hockey League has passed. Neal Graves was a U.S. Army veteran, a longtime accountant, and a regular guy. He was 79. … The NY Post’s Ryan Dunleavy is 10-0 on his best bets vs. the spread; Dave Tuley of Vegas Sports Insider is 1-7. … Old friend Don Orsillo did Rays-A’s for TBS with Jeff Francoeur. They were talking with Houston manager Dusty Baker when the A’s Sean Murphy crushed a home run. Baker declared, “Oh, Lord!” … UConn has landed a “six star” place kicker, Joe McFadden of Texas. According to MaxPreps, McFadden made 84 of 86 PATs in high school. … Mets and Yankees play on 9/11 next year, the 20th anniversary of the WTC attacks. … Albert Pujols had six home runs this season, upping his career total to 662. Pujols has one year left on his $30 million-a-year contract. … MLB umpire Ted Barrett has a master’s in biblical studies. His thesis was titled, “An investigation of faith as a life Principle in the Lives of Major League Umpires.” … The NY Post reported that on Sept. 25, a man aboard a Korea-to-Seattle flight pounded on the cockpit door yelling he had a bomb and demanding to go to Vancouver. Why Vancouver? “Because I’ve never been there before!”

Yeah, it’s been that kind of year.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com




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