JOLIET – Who was that green giant snapping the ball during last week’s University of St. Francis 7-on-7 Passing Jamboree at Memorial Stadium?
Why, it was none other than Coal City’s man mountain, senior Matt Long.
From a size standpoint, Long certainly is recognizable. In other ways, however, he is not the same guy, even to the Coalers’ coaching staff.
“It’s night and day with him,” coach Lenny Onsen said, comparing Long’s current offseason with that of a year ago. “He has really picked it up this offseason. It’s part of the whole maturing thing.”
“Last offseason, all I worked on was strength,” Long said. “This year I worked on strength and agility, and it’s been a lot better.”
Long is 6-foot-5 and said he weighs between 300 and 305 pounds. “Last year, I was between 315 and 320 at the end of the year,” he added. “I felt that by weighing less, I could be a better player.”
“Matt’s kind of an unknown [nationally] because he didn’t have the greatest junior year,” Onsen said. “He’s had a phenomenal offseason and received the Tom Lemming Underclassmen Award. He has been all over the country at camps, getting his name out there. Cal-Berkeley has been hot on him.”
Long said he attended the three-day camp at Nebraska earlier this month, made the eight-hour drive home and the next day was at a camp at Northern Illinois. This week, he trekked to Western Illinois.
Whether he eventually lands in a Division I program is not his main concern at this time, however.
“Cal-Berkeley showing interest got me excited,” he said. “But any school that gives me a chance I’ll be happy with. I could go to a Big Ten school and not get to play for a couple of years, or maybe I could go to a smaller school and play sooner. We’ll see.”
Long played offensive tackle last season, when the Coalers finished 5-5, bowing out in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs. Wherever he lines up this fall, he will be the main man in an offensive line Onsen said “could be our anchor.”
“The last time I played center was back in the [Coal City] Miner days, but I don’t care where I play,” Long said. “Wherever the team needs me is where I’ll be.”
Junior quarterbacks Brad Littleton and Nick Micetich have been taking snaps from Long in the summer. “Both are getting some reps,” Onsen. “We’ll see how it all happens.”
The big news for the offense is the return of senior tailback Jack Dibble from his second ACL injury.
“We’re hoping he can have a great bounce-back year,” Onsen said. “He could be a real go-to guy. Keegan McKinney, a senior receiver, could be a nice player, too.”
“I get chills when you mention Jack Dibble being back,” Long said. “He is just a playmaker. If he gains 20 yards, I’m disappointed in the kid that he didn’t go farther, maybe take it all the way.”
Onsen noted there are a few key faces back on the defensive side of the ball. Long, for example, saw some time on the defensive line and likely will again.
“Peter Czaja will be our middle linebacker and will mix in a little on offense, too,” Onsen said. “Corey Jurzak and D.J. Budde are two defensive backs who are back.
“We hope we can play a lot of kids on one side of the ball only, but we’ll see. We’re a work in progress, we really are.”
Despite their status, the team attitude is good.
“Last year, we were supposed to be pretty good and finished 5-5,” said Long, who like some of his teammates donated his time and muscle to the recovery effort when a tornado struck Diamond and Coal City in November.
“I don’t think everyone was fully committed last year. This year it’s different. This is the most committed team I’ve seen.”