This is one in a series of occasional updates on the lives of people featured by STAT during our first year.
At last, things were looking up for A.J. Long.
He had just transferred from Syracuse University to tiny Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y., to play football. At the annual spring game, an inter-squad scrimmage, Long, a quarterback, performed well. He threw for three touchdowns, and afterward his new coach praised his performance.
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In January, STAT reported on Long’s medical disqualification from the Syracuse football team after suffering three concussions. Although Syracuse determined it was not safe for the sophomore to keep playing, the National Collegiate Athletic Association sets no limits on the number of permissible concussions, and each school decides whether it is too dangerous for athletes to continue playing.
This meant Long could play football somewhere else, and several schools expressed interest in him. At the start of the spring semester, Long transferred to Wagner after getting a second opinion from a concussion expert who cleared him to play.
After the spring game, “I expected to start and was told there would be a battle for the starting job,” Long said in an interview this month. “That is where my mind was at.”
Then, injury struck again. Long hurt his back during preseason practice and missed the first six games this fall. He has not played since returning, and with only one game left in the season, Long does not expect to see action this year.
“I was angry,” Long said of being injured again. “I have been through so much.” But he said the experience of getting back to playing football after being disqualified at Syracuse made it easier for him to cope with this injury and focus on getting healthy again.
Long also admitted it’s been difficult adjusting to a campus culture that places less emphasis on sports. The football team plays in a 3,300-seat stadium, compared to the 50,000-seat Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Wagner is also a smaller school, with just 2,000 students.
“Syracuse is a college town and everything revolved around that,” Long said. “At Syracuse, even when we were not good, people were out at games and knew who we were.”
Long plans to continue playing football and still has three years of eligibility left. He expects to graduate in December 2017 and use his remaining football eligibility to earn a graduate degree.
At Wagner, he is cohosting a sports talk show on the student-run radio station. He hopes to go into the communications field.
“In the past year, I have changed my outlook on life and football,” he said. “At Syracuse, practice was hard and I didn’t look forward to it. Now, I cherish the days I have with it because there are no guarantees. It was almost taken from me once. I don’t regret anything. Right now, this is where the Lord placed me.”