Call him Byrd’s X factor.
Xavier Long, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior fullback, makes the Yellow Jackets offense go.
“It all starts with him,” Byrd coach Mike Suggs said. “He’s a key component to everything we do. He’s not really big, but he’s strong. He has the vision to make the right cuts, and he always plays hard.”
On Friday, Long rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns to lead Byrd (4-1, 1-0 in 1-5A) to a 27-21, comeback win at Haughton.
“The offensive line is great at what they do,” Long said. “My coaches are always telling me I have to run low to the ground, keep my eyes up, stay balanced and just keep running. Our line opened up the holes, and I just followed that advice.”
Long, two-year starter, worked hard to become the featured rusher in Byrd’s triple-option attack. He finished the 2011 season with 1,119 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
“He’s been getting better since I started coaching him two years ago,” Byrd running backs coach James Wilkerson said. “He’s got the drive, and he wants to be the best.”
Long knows he is slightly undersized for a fullback or running back at the next level. That hasn’t kept him from working to reach his goal of playing college ball.
“I have seen a lot of smaller running backs make it,” said Long, who has 417 yards and three touchdowns through five games this season. “Guys like Barry Sanders, who I really look up to. He was one of the smallest on the field, but he got the job done every time he touched the ball.”
Instead of despairing, Long has used his size as motivation.
“I think about it all the time, like when someone is about to tackle me, and I keep going to get that extra yard,” he said. “All of the work I’m putting in will pay off in the future. Hopefully college recruiters will notice.”
In his down time, Long doesn’t like to wander too far from his house. Most of his after-school fun comes playing video games — Call of Duty and sports games are favorites — with his two brothers, Dorian and Malcolm.
Connect with Brent Shirley on Twitter at @bshirley08