NCAA Football: Boston College at Duke (copy)

Boston College tight end Hunter Long catches a pass during a game last September against Duke.

Before Hunter Long led the nation in catches, put on an award-winning performance at the Senior Bowl and became the Miami Dolphins' tight end of the future, he was a little known and barely recruited "computer nerd" from a small town in New England.

Want a story of overcoming the odds?

Long, the laptop-building, Rubik's Cube-flipping pass catcher taken by the Dolphins in the third round Friday, fits the bill.

He had zero scholarship offers coming out of Exeter (N.H.) High School. But Long didn't want to give up on his dream to play big-time college football. so he enrolled in prep school for a bridge year. Boston College took note of his play during that extra season, and made the only Power 5 scholarship offer he'd receive.

Still, Long was little more than blocking tight end in college until BC made a coaching change, hiring Frank Cignetti Jr. to open up the offense. For the first time, Long was in a featured role. He didn't disappoint.

A breakthrough 2020 season — with 57 catches, most by a tight end in college football — put him on the radar of NFL teams, and convinced Long he was ready for the next step.

"It's all self-made," said Boston College tight ends coach Steve Shimko, a former assistant for the Seattle Seahawks. "I don't think anybody pushed him harder than he's pushed himself. It's good to have a guy that's from the area so that other guys can see someone who didn't have it all together in high school, as far as being the athlete he became. He progressed and blossomed under Boston College's watch and was able to get everything he ever wanted. And now he's in another great place in Miami."

Brian Flores, like Long, attended BC, and when the former coached the latter at the Senior Bowl in January, he identified common traits.

"He's a typical Boston College player," Flores said. "He's tough, he's smart, he's team-first and we're excited to have him."

And Long is excited to join them — even if the move involves a massive culture shock.

Long grew up in Exeter, a nearly 500-year-old town of 15,000 people that's 15 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and an hour north of Boston.

Exeter is known for a lot of things — it's the home of arguably the nation's top boarding school (Phillips Exeter Academy), it's widely credited as the birthplace of the Republican Party and is the hometown of Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown — but football is not one of them.

New Hampshire isn't exactly a recruiting hotbed. Exeter has produced three NFL players — Ted Kucharski, Dutch Connor and Johnny Scott — but none since 1930.

And that didn't seem likely to change when Long graduated Exeter High (the town's public school) with no college football prospects.

"I had to do a fifth year of high school to get a couple of offers," Long told reporters the night he was drafted. "I think it just allowed me to play with a chip on my shoulder. Every time I touch the field, it's a chance to prove the people wrong that didn't believe in me early on in my career. It also made me have to take full advantage of the few opportunities I had. It put some pressure on me to step up and be the player that I believed I could be, but it also allows me to go on the field and play with that chip."

Shimko didn't recruit Long to BC — he didn't join the coaching staff until 2020 — but identified that emotional edge early on in their relationship.

He also saw a seriously committed, seriously smart dude. The nation got a taste of Long's intelligence when he solved a Rubik's Cube in 47 second on NFL Network prior to the draft.

That led to some good-natured roasting by Long's teammates, who already gave him grief for his teacher's pet approach to team meetings and his passion for building computers in his down time.

"He's our computer nerd," Shimko said with fondness."He's kind of a position coach's dream. ... He's a guy who's very thorough. He has a drive for perfection. He's not going to really settle for anything less."

That will surely endear Long to George Godsey, who is both the Dolphins' tight ends coach and co-offensive coordinator.

Godsey won't have to rush Long onto the field — the Dolphins return Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe and Adam Shaheen from 2020 plus signed Cethan Carter in the offseason — but there's reason to believe the rookie will see meaningful snaps in 2021.

Long's combination of dependability (four drops on 101 targets his final two seasons), range, size and blocking acumen could make him the most complete tight end on the Dolphins roster by the end of his first NFL season.

"He's absolutely NFL ready," Shimko said. "A lot more goes into the NFL than just being able to play football and running plays. That's why I talk about him being a pro. He's as thorough and as detailed as any pro I've been around. He's going to take the extra time outside of the building, outside of the required hours and he's going to demand himself to do it great. He's definitely NFL ready. I don't see any issues of him being able to translate to that league."


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.