Kyle Long, STAB alumni bridge the past with new era
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- When injuries ended Kyle Long's Pro Bowl NFL career early, an opportunity was waiting for him back in his hometown at his alma mater, St. Anne's-Belfield.
"It kind of feels like it was supposed to be like this," Long said, who played last year with the Kansas City Chiefs, "First conversation was real brief, he was like 'Do you want to help out' and I said yeah, and he said 'how much?"
The difference though is Long comes back to a new head coach, Joe Sandoe takes over after John Blake roamed the STAB sidelines for more than two decades.
"There's always a balance when you take over a program of the new and the old," Sandoe said, who came from coaching in the Atlanta area, "So trying to bring some new energy and new things we're doing in the program, but they're providing a source of stability."
"We have meetings, I didn't do meetings when we were here," Long said, who assists with practice and coaches at home games, "John Blake was a great coach, but they're two opposite styles, so it's one that I'm adjusting to."
Sandoe surrounded himself with a few alumni spanning generations with holdover Jimmy Zunka ('00) and recent grad Kareem Johnson ('16) along with Long ('08).
"I knew I wanted to stay involved with the program," Zunka said, "it was so important to me in high school and then coaching here for the last nine years I wanted to make sure I was a part of the transition."
"I saw everything on the news going on with the program and just wanted to come back and help," Johnson said, "I wanted to come back out here and get all the memories of being back out here."
Years ago when the three were All-State picks for the Saints there was a learning curve, now there is a teaching curve.
"When you tell these guys some of the techniques you've learned in the league, they look at you like you're speaking Latin," Long said, "Something as simple as when you're drive blocking, just drive the bus, that's what you're doing with the person and none of that really carries over, but it's a good foundation for guys."
"Learning stuff from my coaches at William & Mary," Johnson said, "I looked back on my time at STAB and I thought to myself I wish I would have known some of these things coming out of high school."
The STAB alumni provide a bridge from days of state championships to Sandoe's new culture.
"To see both of them eager to be back and on the field and a part of the program, it means the world and the kids it's just so good for the players to have them around," Zunka said.
"I remember growing up and watching Kyle play," Johnson said, "The kids were telling me they remember watching me play, so I think it's getting to a point where it's this timeline of kids growing up, watching people play and then coming back and help out."
While Long adjust to life without putting on the pads, the return to Charlottesville has just as many rewards.
"If we're a guy short on a drill I'll jump in there and say 'hit me guys, I can take it, you're not going to hurt me," Long said, "I go home after a great sweat and I get to and I get to hang out with my wife and my baby and it's awesome, I feel like I've done something good for the day. And there's something about getting a good workout, working with kids and getting better that just does it for me."