For ex-Wolverine David Long Jr., persistence led to NFL title with Rams

Eric Sondheimer
Los Angeles Times

Growing up in Pasadena, David Long Jr.’s first football practice happened at age 5 on the grass outside the Rose Bowl as a member of the Pasadena Trojans. He never imagined that one week after his 24th birthday, he’d be a Super Bowl champion as a starting cornerback for the Rams.

“Honestly, I’m so early in in my career, I can’t grasp what it means,” he said. “I don’t know what to compare it to.”

Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, right, attempts to get past former Wolverines cornerback David Long during the Rams' victory in Super Bowl 56 in Inglewood, Calif.

It was on the eve of the Super Bowl three weeks ago that the Rams held their final practice at the Rose Bowl. Talk about entering memory lane.

Long thought back to his days running the hills and trails while in middle school and high school. He remembered watching Reggie Bush and USC against Texas in the 2006 national championship game. And he thought about that first practice in 2003.

“All those moments came full circle. This is my moment. Everything I’ve been working for is right here on this grass,” he said.

There are so many lessons to learn from a player who was an A student at Loyola High, three-year defensive back at Michigan and third-round NFL draft pick in 2019.

More: Michigan cornerback David Long to enter NFL Draft

The first is don’t be afraid of adversity. He had lost his starting spot with the Rams during the season.

“A lot of would have checked out. This isn’t fair,” he said. “A lot of people would have turned away. I wanted to keep improving. Development is big. You have to continue and want to develop.”

Injuries thrust him back into the lineup. So there he was on the final snap against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium covering the tight end on fourth down. While most attention focused on Aaron Donald pressuring Joe Burrow on that final play, it was Long using his instincts to take away Burrow’s No. 1 passing option that gave Donald time to make the play that preserved the Rams’ 23-20 victory.

“I peeked back to look at the quarterback and realized ‘quick game,’” Long said of Burrow looking to deliver a quick pass. “My body position discouraged him to come back to the tight end. I flashed back for a second and saw him clutch the ball. I knew that was all we needed. We had a great pass rush throughout the playoffs.”

Rams defensive back David Long runs onto the field during a divisional playoff game against the Buccaneers on Jan. 23, 2022 in Tampa, Fla.

Long said his journey to Super Bowl champion would not have been possible if he hadn’t been uncomfortable at times, because that’s how you improve.

“A lot will miss opportunities because they take adversity as something negative,” he said.

Long had to sit out six games his sophomore year at Loyola after transferring. He said he didn’t complain or make excuses.

“I used that year as a time to develop, mature, get up to speed,” he said. “I didn’t waste any time. You’re going to have those moments in any career path. There’s going to be a fork in the road. You either be content or push through.”

Long and another former Loyola player on the Rams, lineman Coleman Shelton, brought excitement to Cubs players, according to Loyola coach Drew Casani.

“It’s amazing,” Casani said. “I’m just proud of those guys. It’s something for our guys to look up to and realize anything is possible and they can dream big.”

For Long, winning the Super Bowl was about delivering a championship for such veteran players as Donald, ex-Lion Matthew Stafford and Eric Weddle.

“I wanted to do what I needed to do to win for those other guys,” he said. “Being so young in my career, I didn’t know what to feel. I was feeding off everyone else’s energy. I’ve never experienced anything like this or been in any games like this.”

Rams defensive back David Long Jr., top, is congratulated by cornerback Donte' Deayon after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game against the Cardinals on Jan. 17, 2022 in Inglewood, Calif.

Long said he didn’t leave the stadium until after 10 p.m.

“I was in shock,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I won the Super Bowl three years removed from college. I never got to win anything. It was crazy we actually did it. Von Miller was talking about being in football heaven and there was nothing to describe what you feel. You’re exhausted and overflowing with emotions.”

Long said the parade “was super cool,” but it was also a goodbye, since the teammates will never be the same.

“You’re forever bonded with those players,” he said.

For two weeks he rested. Then this past week, he went to the Rams’ facility to begin active recovery. A new season beckons. The journey continues.

Long said a video he saw of Nick Saban and Kobe Bryant discussing why some people succeed and others don’t rings true.

“I’ve always believed you know what you need to do in order to go where you want to go,” he said.