PULLMAN – Travis Long may have started in more losses than any player in Washington State football history, but those who know him best have no doubt Long is a winner.
“You won’t find another guy like him around,” quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “He’s one of a kind, in this program especially.
“He really expresses his emotions and leads by his actions tremendously. Doesn’t take crap from anyone. Isn’t afraid of anyone. Will stands up for his beliefs and what is right.
“I wish we had more guys like him on this team. He’s really been a role model for a lot of the younger guys and (other) people on this team.”
Long, who moved to outside linebacker after three years at defensive end, has started in all 45 games – and 36 losses – the Cougars have played the past four years. With 49 tackles (two short of his career high) and a team-high, career-best 71/2 sacks this season, Long should earn all-conference honors of some sort for the fourth consecutive year.
Washington State coach Mike Leach has been criticized in some circles for his harsh public criticism of players, but Leach has repeatedly praised Long for his play and his effort.
“Great effort, great mentality,” Leach said of Long. “The type of guy who kind of personifies what we’re after, the mentality that we need the whole team to share.”
Even opposing coaches have singled out Long for his effort.
“Travis Long is probably one of my favorite guys in our conference that’s not on our team,” Stanford coach David Shaw said after the Cardinal beat WSU recently. “That guy plays hard.”
Tuel said Long was the one player he would single out for extraordinary effort during the long, intense conditioning session that Leach ordered Sunday night, barely 24 hours after an embarrassing 49-6 loss to Utah. Long was not short on guts that night.
“He’s screamin’ and hollerin’ for more … you’re not going to get to that kid,” Tuel said.
Long is intelligent — he’s scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in business management operations — but he’s often understated during interviews. On Sunday’s workout: “Just a little conditioning. We just had to get through it.”
On Leach’s claim the Cougars didn’t put out enough effort last Saturday: “We have to take it for what it is. We have to give better effort.”
On the disappointing 2-7 season: “I don’t really know if I can pinpoint a specific reason for that. It just kind of happened.”
Long did permit himself to relish, however briefly, his first college interception at Utah.
“When I got tackled, that’s probably when I realized, ‘Oh, I just intercepted the ball. I haven’t done that since high school,’” Long said with a laugh.
Long, ever the team player, hastened to point out that he “didn’t get too enthused.” After all, the Cougars were trailing 24-0 in the second quarter when he recorded the interception.
He was playing inside linebacker when he made his pick, but he usually plays outside linebacker or lines up at defensive end with a hand on the ground, just like old times.
Long said he’s open to playing linebacker or defensive end in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound graduate from Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep is more definitive when asked if he plans to train for the pros in sunny climes this winter.
“I’m definitely not going to be in Pullman or Spokane,” he vowed.
Long said he’s not certain, but he believes he’s missed just one football game in his life – the first one. Long said his family was stranded in Hawaii when air travel was interrupted after 9/11, so he may have missed the season opener in fifth grade.
“I definitely missed a bunch of practices,” he said.
Even without the possibility of playing in a bowl game, Long won’t slow down in WSU’s final three games.
“I’m going to go hard like I always do,” he said. “Just approach these next three games and try to go out and win. I don’t think that’s going to change about me no matter what.”