Offensive tackle Jake Long has had a stronghold on the Wolverines left tackle position for years. As his last season in the winged helmet starts to wind down, Long, who could go as high as No. 1 in the NFL draft, talks about the Heisman Trophy.
ANN ARBOR -- Since Notre Dame lineman Leon Hart won the Heisman Trophy way back in 1949, it's an honor that has gone primary to skill position players. In 1997, Michigan's Charles Woodson became an exception to the rule. At his defensive back position, Woodson rocked the college football landscape by overtaking preseason favorite Peyton Manning to win the nations most coveted trophy.
Now, 10 years later, the Wolverines again have a player capable of becoming that exception. In his final season as a Wolverine, offensive tackle Jake Long has been the rock protecting the blind side of Michigan quarterbacks and paving the way for the tandem of Michigan running backs that have all logged significant minutes in 2007.
As a result, Long's name surfaced earlier this week in an article surrounding the Heisman Trophy. In a year that no single player has emerged as the top player in the nation, why shouldn't the most dominant lineman in the nation be considered for the nations top honor.
"I'll say this about Jake Long, any discussion of the best football players in this country, if it doesn't include Jake Long, then I think there's something missing from that discussion," said coach Lloyd Carr. "I think if you took a 50-play highlight of Jake Long this year, it would compare and educate people in a way that they could see what a great offensive lineman he is and how he can impact the game."
This season, Long's impact has been enormous. Through the first nine games of his last season in Ann Arbor, Long has not been beaten to quarterback Chad Henne. While running the ball, play after play starts to the left before one of three Michigan running backs makes the decision on potential cutbacks. Despite that, Long remains a long shot for the Heisman Trophy.
"It's a skill position trophy. Linemen don't get recognition for some reason, I think," Long said. "I don't think I've done quite enough to be put in that category.
"I think the regular fan doesn't know. They watch the quarterback, receiver, and running back without focusing on the line. They really don't know what you have to go through every play and what you have to know."
NFL general managers, however, are another thing altogether. With Joe Thomas and Levi Brown, both players Long beat out for the Big 10 Offensive Lineman of the Year award last year, going in the top five of the NFL draft last season, Long, who joked about NFL dollars at the weekly press conference, has a big pay day coming up.
"That says a lot," Long said on the fact that left tackle is the second highest paid position in the NFL. "It's definitely a position that you need to protect the quarterback's blind side and it's definitely one of the toughest to play. It's a hard position to play."
Saturday, the Wolverines meet the Spartans, a team that Long last touched the football against, for a critical Big 10 game in East Lansing, Mich. Beside the Heisman Trophy, what's still on the line for Long and the Wolverines?
"The Big Ten Championship, bragging rights, that ring. Every game is a Big Ten Championship game and we're looking at it that way. The ring is still out there for us."