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Kevin Long

 

Article Provided by The Gamecock Newspaper
By: Alex Riley
Assistant Sports Editor

 

In 1973, Kevin Long came to USC out of the small town of Clinton, where he had been recruited by coach Paul Dietzel as a linebacker. Little did Gamecock fans know that the imposing figure would rewrite the history of USC's rushing game.

"I got letters from a bunch of people, but there were only two teams that really gave me concrete offers, and that was the Naval Academy and South Carolina State," Long said. "I actually signed with Navy to go up there originally. My family didn't have a car in those days, and I was supposed to go down to Sumter to take a physical, and I wasn't able to get down there.

"As fate would have it, Carolina came in and made me an offer, and I signed with them."

Dietzel's original plan put Long on the defensive side of the ball, making him a third-team linebacker.

"Coach Dietzel was a really neat coach to play for," Long said. "We ran drills all the time. I was probably in the best shape of my life playing under him."

When Dietzel left in 1974, USC hired coach Jim Carlen as the new head of Gamecock football. Carlen saw Long's potential on offense and switched him to the position that would make him a legend at Carolina.

"One of the statements he made to us was the best 22 players was going to play," Long said. "He was true to his word. If you didn't perform, you weren't going to get on the field."

Under Carlen, Long finally got his shot at running back and turned in what at the time was the greatest performance by a running back in USC history. Long totaled 1,133 yards in 1975, the first 1,000-yard running back for the Gamecocks in school history.

"When I came to Carolina, I had no idea no one had rushed for a 1,000 yards," Long said. "The only reason I was aware that no one had gained 1,000 yards was talking to Clarence Williams one day, and he mentioned it to me. So, I looked at the record books and there it was that no one had gained 1,000 yards. That gave me a little incentive to be the first one to do it."

Long's performance in 1975 was doubly special, as his 1,133 yards would be coupled with Williams 1,073 rushing yards to produce USC's only two-back duo rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.

"Even though we were competitive, we were great friends with each other," Long said. "Not that we were there out there trying to gain 1,000 yards to get the individual accolades, because the team always comes first. In order to do that, you have to complement each other. When I wasn't carrying the ball, I was blocking just as hard for him and visa-versa. We were just able to do that through our friendship."
 

The rushing tandem of Long and Williams, combined with Second Team All-American quarterback Jeff Grantz's passing and rushing abilities and Philip Logan's receiving skill, propelled Carolina to a 7-4 finish and a berth to the 1975 Tangerine Bowl.

"It was an exciting feeling. It was like our Christmas," Long said. "For a hard season, you're rewarded with an extra game at the end of year. Especially getting to go somewhere like Florida. We were glad to give the fans something they had waited on for a long time."

After his senior season at Carolina, Long got a chance to play professional football with the New York Jets after being drafted in the seventh round, where he played from 1977-1981. Long took some time off before turning to the sidelines for a two-year stint with the USFL.

"The '70s was probably one of the greatest times in my mind to be in New York," Long said. "That was the media capital of the world at the time. I felt like I was really blessed. It was a great experience. I don't have any regrets going there, and I wouldn't have wanted to play anywhere but there."

After tasting the life of the Big Apple, Long made a decision that his family didn't need to be raised in the environment of a big city. He made his return to Columbia, where he started his family and has lived and worked ever since his retirement from football.

"After being up in the Northeast, you get used to the fast-paced life," Long said. "But it's very costly, and it's not as safe and I didn't want to raise my family in an environment like that."

"I wanted to come back south and I always loved Columbia. I always maintained a home here even when I was living in other states. So, one day I just decided enough was enough and we packed up and came home."

Long's return to a normal life allowed him to raise his kids and see them grow up; he attended their school functions and sporting events. It also gave him the chance to come back for games at Williams-Brice and stay in touch with his old friends.

Though it's been almost 30 years since Long donned the garnet and black, his name is still ingrained throughout the record books at Carolina. His 2,372 career yards are still eighth best all-time and his 1,133 yards in 1975 are the third-best season total ever. He totaled six games of more than 100 yards rushing, which ties him for the fifth best total. Long and Williams posted three games where both rushed for more than 100 yards, including Long's career high of 160 yards against N.C. State. Long also had two games with 100 yards and a receiver with 100 yards receiving.

"I hope that it's an inspiration for young running backs coming to South Carolina," Long said. "Because of that history that the university has some good running backs. It's just a blessing to be able to have accomplished that sort of thing. I'm most proud of the fact that it's always going to be a part of the records."