The old adage might state that kickers are not real football players, but that doesn’t seem to matter in the locker room of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Former B.C. Lions’ kicker Ty Long was featured in a special report by Chris Hayre on CBS LA’s Sports Central on Friday, not for his play on the field but because of his remarkable leadership in the locker room.
While most second-year punters might be eating lunch alone, Long was named a Chargers’ team captain and has helped lead the team’s charge for social justice. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by his employer.
“Ty’s a leader,” said head coach Anthony Lynn in a press conference earlier this week. “And guys will follow Ty. He will hold people accountable and that is unusual for a punter.”
Long believes his leadership style resonates because he leads by example.
“Anyone can lead when it’s easy, that’s the thing,” he stresses. “You have to find someone who’s going to lead when it’s dark, when they’re dealing with things.”
He proved he could do that last season, playing hurt for most of 2019 and still performing at a high level. His teammates were paying attention and it was a key reason he was chosen as one of their leaders.
“He was hurt most of all last year. He punted the ball well all last year and he was hurt,” defensive back Casey Hayward told reporters when asked about his respect for Long. “He kicked off for us on a dang near broken foot.”
“That was a big thing for me, that you have to lead by example,” Long explains. “If you’re about it, you’ve got to be about it through the rainy days and through the sunny days.”
The UAB product was a CFL all-star in 2017 and 2018 during two productive seasons for the B.C. Lions. The 27-year-old played in 36 games for the Lions, making 82-of-92 three-point tries (88.2 percent) with a long of 52 yards, plus 58-of-65 extra points (89 percent).
Long also punted 236 times for an average of 48.3 yards. Chargers GM Tom Telesco discovered Long on a CFL scouting trip and just over a year later, the acquisition has paid major dividends. While most CFL players in their second NFL season are still trying to establish themselves, Long was honoured to be voted captain by his teammates.
“It was definitely a surreal feeling, especially with my journey so far. Being a guy who wasn’t anywhere his first two years, then went up to Canada, came back and now this is my second year here,” Long said. “I’m excited to lead these guys in any way I can.”
The way Long has led thus far is by being a vocal advocate for social justice. As one of the few NFL teams with a Black head coach, the Chargers have been one of the league’s leaders when it comes to advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement.
During training camp, the team made the decision to cancel a scheduled scrimmage at SoFi Stadium at the last minute, instead choosing to let players speak about the current social justice movement. Long was one of those who took up the mic.
“We need less followers and more leaders,” he said at the time. “It’s time to step up. When you know something’s wrong, let’s point it out and be better.”
For Long, the more important aspect of the day was the crucial conversations held among the team.
“The talk we had in the locker room, when nobody was around, that was the important thing,” he says. “We all got to speak our minds and our feelings.”
Long’s desire to be a force for positive change didn’t end with a training camp speech. This season, he’s donating $50 dollars for each punt he downs inside the 20-yard-line to the Special Olympics organizations in both LA and Birmingham, causes close to his heart, while encouraging others to do the same.
Long had 17 such kicks last year and has four already in 2020. More than that, Long is part of a group of Chargers working to create initiatives for positive change.
“The most important thing that came from [the cancelled scrimmage] is that we are doing these meetings every week with Coach Lynn. Myself and six other guys, Tyrod (Taylor), J.J. (Justin Jackson), there are a bunch of guys in it, and we are just trying to figure out how we can help change this world for the better,” says Long.
While he was brought in ‘just to kick,’ Long’s leadership has earned the respect of his peers and will be part of real change down the road.
“Nobody chooses what colour they are when they’re born, we’re all the same,” Long said of the initiatives he’s helped spearhead. “We are just trying to make this an equal playing field for everybody and just the best world we can make it.”