EUGENE — With his senior season winding down, Kyle Long is facing the typical level of uncertainty for a college student at this point in his life.
"I have no clue," Long said the other day, "where I'm going to be in a month's time."
Unlike most seniors, however, one of Long's options — perhaps even his preferred option — could be another year at Oregon. The Ducks' starting left guard is approaching the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl as if it will be his final appearance on a college football field, and while it likely is, there's a chance it won't be.
Long, who began his career at Florida State in 2008 as a baseball player, then left school after falling behind academically, has appealed to the NCAA for another year of eligibility. He has applied for a medical hardship on the basis of chemical dependency, which led to his struggles at Florida State and a DUI arrest shortly after leaving school.
Some time in the next couple weeks, Long believes, he should find out whether he needs to start preparing for a potential pro career, or if he'll have another year at Oregon to hone his raw but bountiful skills.
"He's got some opportunities to go and play in some all-star games," UO offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. "So we need to get a verdict pretty quick."
In the meantime, Long will try to focus on learning the intricacies of his new position, after moving to guard for the final month of the regular season. Oregon's win at USC on Nov. 3, one of the most dominant performances by a UO offensive line in recent memory, was Long's first playing time ever at guard.
When the Ducks began bowl practices Friday following a two-week layoff, Long might have been as rusty as anybody, due to the recent position change. He spent most of the season rotating at left tackle with starter Tyler Johnstone, but has found a new home on the interior of the line.
"I'm 320 (pounds), so being in a little phone booth is awesome," said Long, as gregarious a guy as there is on the UO roster. "It's like fighting somebody in an elevator as opposed to a hallway. You can run down the hallway, but you can't run out of the elevator. And I prefer the elevator."
The son of pro football Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of current NFL star Chris, Kyle Long was an ace left-handed pitcher as well as a football player in high school. He chose the diamond at Florida State, but returned to football in 2010 at Saddleback College in Southern California, following an extended break from school and sports in the wake of his DUI.
When he got to Oregon, Long's physical abilities were so robust they reminded some longtime UO observers of all-time great Gary Zimmerman. But for all that ability, there was very little polish — Long followed in the family footsteps and played defensive line his first year at Saddleback, only crossing over to offense a year ago.
"I didn't really know much about the game of football when I got here," Long said. "I just liked to go around and hit people. Coach Greatwood has done a great job of bringing it back to square one, starting me at the bottom, and I'm forever grateful for that."
An ankle injury delayed Long's progress early in the season. Fortuitously, his recovery coincided with a lack of depth at guard in the wake of injuries to Carson York and Mana Greig, and Long took over at USC, his first live snaps at the position.
Oregon center Hroniss Grasu expected to have to hold Long's hand through the game. Instead, he sometimes heard Long calling out presnap adjustments before Grasu himself did.
"That's how he prepares," Grasu said. "He's always doing his job well."
"You can control what you can control, and effort is one of those things; toughness is one of those things," Long said. "If you can show that, work hard every play, there's not much the other team can do to stop you."
While that might be so, Greatwood said this month of bowl practices would be huge for Long, as he develops at his new position.
"His dedication to wanting to get better is a good role model for our younger players, just seeing his effort every day," Greatwood said.
If things develop as the Ducks hope this month, they'll have another year to benefit from Long's leadership. His hardship appeal is in the NCAA's hands, with written testimony from Long about his struggles with alcohol, and input from counselors who have worked with him.
"I wasn't right at a certain point in my career," Long said. "You see far too often kids don't come to the surface and bring those issues out from under the table, under the rug. I'm just glad I got it handled, brought it to the forefront when I did. I don't know where I'd be; I'd probably be in jail."
Instead, Long's future is considerably brighter — even if he isn't sure where the next few weeks will take him, either back to Oregon or off to pursue a pro career. He participated in senior day prior to the Ducks' final home game, and was among the seniors honored at the postseason banquet following the Civil War.
"For me to tell you that I haven't been preparing, I'd be lying to you," Long said. "It's something that every kid thinks about, dreams about, the opportunity to play at the next level.
"But one of the many things I love about this place, they do a great job of keeping you grounded, keeping you humble; you're around so many great players all the time, you can't really think about that. I just want to come out and help my team get this Fiesta Bowl win."