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Ty Long is an NFL-caliber punter. That’s a proven fact.

He spent three seasons in Southern California, punting for the Chargers. He was consistent, averaging 47.5, 46.8 and 47 yards per punt. He was versatile, aptly adding placekicker to his duties when injuries struck. He was 7-of-9 on field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder, and served as the kickoff specialist. People noticed, he was a Pro Bowl candidate and earned NFL Special Teams Player of the week honors.  

Then, suddenly, he didn’t have a job. Welcome to life as an NFL specialist.

“The specialist life is a different life,” said the 29-year-old Long, a record-setting placekicker at UAB in his college days.  “Your job is week by week. That’s the truth of it. It’s not like a quarterback. A quarterback can go out there, he can have three picks, he’s not losing his job the next week. Kicking and punting, you have one bad game that costs a game, you’ve seen it happen a few times this year already, and guys are getting replaced quickly.”

That scenario didn’t happen for Long with the Chargers. He was coming off another solid season when the coaching staff decided to bring in former Alabama punter J.K. Scott, who spent three seasons with the Green Bay Packers and one season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Scott signed with the Chargers in March and Long became a free agent.

“To be frank, it’s been a harder five months because I felt like my departure with the Chargers was sort of strange to say the least,” Long said. “I was a little blindsided. Then again, it’s also hard surviving three special team coaches in three years.”

For Long, it’s just another opportunity to fight for a job, which he’s been doing for a long time.

“I don’t think people remember, I was the second kicker UAB offered,” Long said. “They offered Colin Anderson before me. No disrespect, but I’ve lived in this world for a long time. For whatever reason, there is this shadow of doubt before people get to know me, before I get into the building. Then, it’s like, ‘OK, he’s a little different than we thought.’ Going to Canada, to get into the NFL, it just fit the story, it just fit the whole thing how I’ve grown up. The amount of appreciation I have for every day in the NFL, it’s huge.”

Before he went to Canada, Long became one of the top college kickers in the country. By the time he left UAB, he established a career record in field goals made with 59 and his 54-yard field goal at Ohio State was the longest in school history. He also had a pair of promising NFL tryouts with the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers before signing with the British Columbia Lions in May of 2017.

He thrived in the Canadian Football League. As a punter and placekicker, he was a two-time All-CFL selection and was nominated by his team for the CFL Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Special Teams Player in 2018. He was released in 2019 to pursue the opportunity with the Chargers, which turned into a three-year job.

These days, Long, his wife, who was his college sweetheart at UAB, and his 11-month-old daughter live in their Hoover home. He built a gym in his garage and works out daily. Three times a week, he drives his golf cart to Hoover High to punt. He is also training some young kickers and punters while staying ready for a phone call.

“Knowing what I know, it’s different,” Long said. “I’ve been here before. Trust me, there are definitely tough days. The thing is, for me, I know what I’ve put out there, know what I’m capable of. At some point, a team is going to call and they’re going to say, ‘Damn, we are so glad we signed him.’ If I knew I couldn’t do it, then I wouldn’t be training. You don’t play three years in the NFL by mistake. That doesn’t happen. You can sneak by for maybe a year, maybe a few games, but you don’t sneak by for three years.”

Human nature might suggest a different approach, but one thing he avoids is rooting for a spot to come open because a punter has a bad day or a couple of bad days.

“I actually had this conversation with one of the younger free agents,” Long said. “I told him, trust me, people don’t know how hard it is to play one game in the NFL. Playing one game in the NFL is a very difficult task. I’ve always told myself, ‘If those thoughts ever come in my head, I turn the game off.’ I would never want someone to think that on me, so I’m not going to do that to somebody else. I wasn’t raised like that. It just doesn’t sit well. Even when a dude does struggle, I don’t feel better, because it’s not a guarantee they’re going to call me. It’s one of those things, it’s like whatever happens is going to happen. It’s their job to take care of the opportunity they have and when I walk in the door, I’m going to take care of my opportunity.”

It appeared at one point that he was headed to the Atlanta Falcons during training camp. But the Falcons brought in veteran Bradley Pinion after Pinion was released following his third season with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Long joined the New York Jets practice squad on Sept. 14 because Jets punter Braden Munn was dealing with an injury issue.

“They pretty much told me, if you go it’s your opportunity to take the job,” Long said. “The punter they have saw me walk in the door and said, ‘I’m doing whatever I can to play.’ That’s what professionals do. He did exactly what I would do. He went out there and had the game of his life. To be honest with you, I was happy for him. I’ve been in those moments, where, there are certain weeks you are playing for your job. He went out there and got it done. That experience was awesome because I got to see so much more, meet a lot of new people and get my foot back in the door. It just solidified more of what I already know.”

Long returned to Hoover a week later and continues to stay ready for the next phone call.

“Just sort of waiting for the right opportunity,” Long said. “There are pros and cons to every situation. There have definitely been tough days, but, I genuinely mean this, I’ve got to do stuff that I haven’t been able to do for the last six years. The time I’ve been able to spend with my daughter (is priceless). I’ve got to be a stay-at-home dad and be here. It’s just so cool. I’ve enjoyed it.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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