Jan. 20, 2003
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Washington State defensive tackle Rien Long will enter the NFL draft, passing up his senior season.
"It was a hard, hard, hard decision to make," the Outland Trophy winner said in a conference call Saturday night from his family home in Anacortes. "I'm not going to lie to you."
The 6-foot-6, 286-pound Long helped the Cougars get to the Rose Bowl with 13 sacks and 52 tackles. He became the first Washington State player to win a major individual award, taking the Outland as the nation's top interior lineman,
Long said he signed with an agent Friday, but said he didn't want to reveal the agent's name yet.
As recently as nine days ago, he had said he planned to return for his senior season in Pullman. On Saturday, Long said he thought he had a chance to be drafted in the first round by an NFL team April 26 and had decided to use the money he would get from a pro career to secure his family's future.
He has a 7˝-month-old son with a former girlfriend.
"Doing this could set me up for the rest of my life," Long said. "I'm extremely grateful to WSU and everything the school and its fans have done for me. I've loved playing Cougar football, but anything can happen in football and I have to think about my son's future, too."
He said he wasn't influenced in his decision by the serious knee injury that Miami running back Willie McGahee suffered in the national title game against Ohio State, an injury that is believed to have cost McGahee millions of dollars. But McGahee's injury made him think.
"That just goes to show you how easy it is to lose all of what you've got in one instance," Long said.
Long believed he would need arthroscopic knee surgery this month, but he said he had seen two other doctors to get other opinions and they told him he would not need an operation in the immediate future. He said he played with a sore knee all season.
"The swelling is down and there is no pain right now," he said. "Both doctors told me I didn't need any surgery right now. I know I'll have it in the future, but there's really no need to now. I'm walking and running fine."
Long said he planned to go to the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 18-24.
"I'll be there," he said. "If I'm in shape there, I'll run there."
Long said his decision to leave WSU had nothing to do with Cougars coach Mike Price's leaving Pullman to go to Alabama. Price was succeeded at WSU as head coach by defensive coordinator Bill Doba.
Long said he told Doba of his decision.
"He took the news pretty good," Long said. "He understands my position. He wishes me the best of luck just as I wish the best of luck to him."
Long said Doba told him his opinion that NFL scouts said Long would be drafted in the third and fourth rounds. But Long said he was told by some sources that he had a chance to go in the mid-first round or early second round.
Long's family was happy for him.
"I'm very happy for him," his mother, Bailey Cunningham, told The Associated Press. "I think it's a good decision, and it was a very tough decision."
He has sent all the necessary paperwork to the NFL.
The last WSU underclassman to leave for the NFL was Ryan Leaf in 1997.
Long said he did not seek the now retired Leaf's advice about leaving college a year early to play in the NFL. In fact, he said he never has had a conversation with Leaf.