Jackson, Kentucky: August 26, 2020
It is believed William’s streak of 39-consecutive starts may be the commonwealth’s longest such streak entering his senior year of play!
There is a really famous story which comes from the “dead ball-era” of baseball. At the Times-Voice we have no idea about its accuracy but it is one fine story. It is one of those legends which has found its way into the lore of the national past-time.
The story goes that the New York Yankees, managed by Miller Huggins, had won three consecutive pennants and the 1923 World Series Championship behind the stellar play from the team’s star first baseman, Wally Pipp. Pipp was considered one of the dead-ball era’s more feared power-hitters.
The story goes that one game in 1925, Pipp wasn’t feeling it. He just didn’t want to take his normal slot at first base as the Yankees were trotting out to take the field. He looked at Huggins and said, “Skip, I think I will take this day off.”
Huggins, who was pretty upset with the team’s performance that season, and was replacing people in the lineup anyway, said, “That’ll be fine Wally, just go over there and sit down, we wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”
Huggins looked down his bench searching for whom he would put in for Pipp. “Gehrig, take first base!” That, ladies and gentlemen, was that.
Lou Gehrig, renowned for his prowess as a hitter and for his durability, played the next 2,130-games in a row. Pipp never again saw the field as a New York Yankee.
Gehrig made seven consecutive All-Star teams, won a Triple Crown (most home-runs, highest average, and most RBIs in a season), was the American Leagues’s MVP twice, and a member of six (6) World Championship teams.
Gehrig would come to be called, “The Iron Horse.” His consecutive games mark stood for 56-years before Cal Ripken, Jr. surpassed it on his way to 2,632-straight games played.
Gehrig is in the Hall of Fame and virtually a household name for baseball aficionados even today. Wally Pipp is a name many of you have just heard for the first time.
Well, the Breathitt County football program has an “Iron Horse” of its own. Two-time AP, first-team All-State offensive center, William Long, enters the 2020 season with 39-consecutive starts. From his first game as a ninth-grader, Long has been in the starting lineup in every game he has ever played.
Long made 25-consecutive starts for Class 4A powerhouse, Hopkinsville High School, including playing for the Regional Championship against Franklin-Simpson, the classification’s state champion, in 2017. Hopkinsville led that game 20-0 in the first half before the Wildcats roared back to beat the Tigers, paving Franklin-Simpson’s path to winning it all.
Long started 12-games his final season in Hopkinsville, in 2018, after having started the team’s 13-games played in 2017 when he was only a freshman. Long would be selected to the AP first-team following his sophomore season, one of only two sophomores so honored that season (other was Austin Gough, Owensboro Senior High).
Long moved to Jackson, Kentucky in 2019 and played 14-games for the Bobcats. Unlike in Hopkinsville where he only played offense, Long starred for Breathitt on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Long would make the AP, first-team All-State squad as a center a second consecutive year. He would also make Honorable Mention All-State for his work at NG and gain selection as District 7’s Defensive MVP. Long was one of only three high school players to make Honorable Mention or better on more than one side of the football. The other two were Michael Mayer (Covington Catholic) and Grayson Cook (Belfry).
The term, Iron Horse, is an apt description of William Long. Not only is he durable, but he is tough and super accomplished slinging iron around a weight room. William Long may be Kentucky’s strongest player, recording bench presses exceeding 400-pounds, a squat exceeding 600, a power clean around 270, and an overhead, standing military press in excess of 300-pounds.
We were able to contact Ricco Hughes, the Kentucky-wide director of the Kentucky Future Stars program. Director Hughes told us, “William Long is the total package of a student athlete. He is the only player in Future Stars’ history to play for both Tennessee and Kentucky over the three years he took part in the program. He’s an Old School style of football player with modern day talent, ability, and wisdom beyond his years!”
We talked to William about his incredible streak of games. We asked him his secret.
“Well, I have played hurt. I remember against the Blue Tornado (Paducah Tilghman) my freshman year, a kid came in from the side and took out my knee. I sprained my MCL (medial collateral ligament) on the play.”
Long continued, “I braced it up and went right back out there. I played the remainder of that season wearing two braces. I was afraid, if players knew which knee was injured, they would target it to knock me out of the lineup. Yeah, it hurt a lot; but my team needed me. I had to answer the bell; for them.”
William works offseason with an elite training outfit aptly named, Elite-3 Foundation. Elite-3 is based in Nashville, Tennessee but provides services to elite high school athletes all over the southeast, including Kentucky. It's Director and CEO is Riley Howard, III, himself a former Division 1, college football player.
When contacted by the Times-Voice, Director Howard had this to say about Breathitt's Iron Horse..."William Long is a great student-athlete with high character. Long takes pride in his academics and it’s a great reflection on his on-field play. The kid is very versatile. To see him start to grab college coaches' attention, like he has begun to do, is no surprise. With the work Long has put in with Elite 3 over the last 2 years, it is his time to shine!"
As we enter the 2020 season, there are questions swirling all over the commonwealth of Kentucky. What will be the extent of participation we will see from Louisville and Lexington area high schools? What will happen if infections spike? Will we get to the playoffs? If we do, how will the playoff brackets look? Will there be fans?
What won’t be in question, if history should hold true to the previous three seasons, is who will trot out onto the filed for the Bobcats to initiate the offense and who will be holding point in the middle of the defensive line for the team expected, by most “experts” to challenge for the 2A classification’s title. It’ll be Breathitt’s Lou Gehrig…Breathitt’s Iron Horse…why, it’ll be William Long, just as he has done every other game, every other year.
As long as Long is physically capable of answering the bell, we remain certain he will answer it. How certain are we? Almost as certain as we are about death and taxes.