Long’s struggle leads to victory

Jake Long, freshman linebacker, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18.

Jake Long, freshman linebacker, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18.

Philip Martin

It’s a regular doctor’s visit, nothing new. Some tests are done, then the doctor reveals something unexpected.

You have been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18 and will have to be taken out of school your senior year and be home schooled. There is also the four rounds of chemotherapy and two surgeries to be done.

What does one do in this instance?

Jake Long, freshman undecided major, decided he was not going to let the diagnosis get him down. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer on Nov. 29, 2001. Vernon Long, Jake’s father, said that at one point Jake told him “he never considered the factor that he could die.”

“I tried to keep a positive attitude,” Jake said. “If you start thinking like that, things will not go the way you want them to.”

Jake said anyone who was put into the same situation he was would think the same way. After the diagnosis, Jake had to be taken out of school during his chemotherapy. He participated in Home Bound, where his teachers would send the schoolwork home to Jake via his mother Kathy Long. Kathy is a school teacher where Jake attended school, and it was easy to send the work home to him. Jake said he would go to school when he was feeling better, but would stay home most of the time.

Vernon said when he heard the news of his son’s diagnosis, he was devastated.

“It’s devastating news to get,” he said. “You don’t know how to react when you first hear about cancer.”

Vernon said he realized it wasn’t “the end of the world.” He said what got him and his wife through the treatments was pulling from Jake’s strength.

Vernon said he’s “elated that (Jake) is OK and happy that he can play football.”

Vernon said he is “thoroughly pleased” with Mark Smith, Missouri Southern’s linebacker coach. Smith would call periodically during Jake’s treatments and surgeries to see how he was doing. Smith called two weeks before school started and invited Jake over to watch practice and to tour the campus.

Vernon said while at college, Jake took part in the weight program and gained back 65 pounds from the point of his lowest weight on June 1.

Smith said he called the day after Jake was diagnosed with cancer to talk to him about Southern.

When he found out about his diagnosis, Smith became more interested in Jake as a person instead of as a possible recruit.

“I didn’t know if he was going to be able to play football again,” Smith said. “But I went ahead and called him to see how he was doing.”

Smith said he decided to call Jake back “whereas most people would have fallen off.” He said that cancer would have scared most people off from trying to recruit him or to call back to see how Jake was doing.

“I like Jake as a person and wanted to know how he was doing,” Smith said.

Smith said part of him wanted Jake to come and play football at Southern during his ordeal, but because he is a father, Smith became more concerned about Jake.

He said he could never have imagined this happening to his children. Smith wanted to know how Jake was doing “and to make sure things were headed in the right direction, and that he was going to bounce back. Which he did, in big form.”

After Jake got into Southern, he started participating in the weight program. Mike Lawrence, head strength coach, said the program helped Jake move in the right direction in gaining back the weight.

“I don’t know if we did much for him — Jake did the work,” Lawrence said. “Any weight that he’s gained back, or so on and so forth, is a credit to his work ethic.”

Lawrence said the program knew of Jake’s condition when he came in. Lawrence designed a program with his condition in mind.

When Jake wanted extra work to do, Lawrence and his staff would give it to him.

Smith said because Jake couldn’t play on the football team, he was able to volunteer to run tape and do whatever was needed for the team.

He said that before Jake came to Southern, he told some of the players about his condition.

“I told them to take care of him,” Smith said. “After they met him, they got along with him real well.”

The players became friends with Jake and these friendships “hopefully will last him a life time.”

The coaches were shocked to hear about Jake and his condition.

Jake has been cancer free since his surgeries and chemo treatments. He has to go in every two months for a checkup. Smith said he expects Jake to put on pads next season and play as a linebacker.

“I don’t know anything about him as far as college football, because he hasn’t put a helmet on yet,” Smith said.

“I’ve got a good feeling that he will be a good one. Great thing about it is we still have him around for four more years.”