Rams rookie cornerback David Long, 21, began to realize he was a professional football player soon after he started summer workouts.
“I played against guys on video games,” he said. “Now I’m teammates.”
Making the jump from youth football to high school to college to the NFL always requires development — physical and mental.
A handful of Southern California products will be trying this season to earn roster spots and even be contributors in their first year in the NFL.
Long, a third-round draft choice out of Los Angeles Loyola High and Michigan, already has received helpful advice from veterans Aqib Talib, Eric Weddle and Marcus Peters. He said they’ve “extended their hands” and shared their knowledge with Rams rookies.
“They’re trying to make sure we’re at our best. I appreciate that,” he said.
The first task for drafted first-year players and free agents is to convince teams they can be contributors. And their biggest responsibilities have been to show up healthy and in top physical shape and be ready to learn.
Greg Gaines, a nose tackle from La Habra and Washington who is trying to be a major contributor for the Rams as a fourth-round selection, said: “Our career is on the line. Our livelihood is on the line. It puts that extra motivation in there. Those are the conditions a lot of us thrive under.”
One lesson Long learned concerned his training regimen. He called it “getting smarter.”
“It’s not about working out every hour every day of the week,” he said. “It’s about having a plan and being consistent. It’s about peaking at the right time. Being calculated with all your playing. Being smarter. Everybody is working. It’s about who’s making progress, not just banging a head against the wall.”
Long is a 5-foot-11, 196-pound cornerback with speed and athleticism. He got better each of his three years at Michigan. He figures to add depth and durability to the Rams’ secondary while learning from the many veterans.
“I’m trying to be the best player for the Rams and be available in any way,” he said. “Whatever role that comes, I’m ready to embrace and run with it.”
The transition from college student to making football his full-time job is something Long has always wanted since his days growing up in Pasadena and training on trails around the Rose Bowl.
“I’m still getting my feet wet,” he said. “I think the biggest time commits are high school and college with all the things you’re juggling. Once you get here, everyone is an adult. You’re worried about your job and family. You really focus on football and get your body ready. I don’t have as much time as I thought I had working out early and often.”
The grind to make an NFL roster continues.
Marcus Epps, a former Huntington Beach Edison and Wyoming defensive back, was a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. He started his college career as a walk-on and continues to defy the skeptics.
Caleb Wilson, a tight end from Gardena Serra and UCLA, was taken by the Arizona Cardinals as the last player selected in the draft and caught a touchdown pass in their second preseason game.
Iman Marshall, a cornerback from Long Beach Poly and USC, was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens but has been hampered by an injury.
One Southern California rookie who could find a roster spot after failing last season is kicker Tristan Vizcaino, who played at La Verne Damien and Washington. He has made field goals of 47 and 57 yards during the preseason for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Long voiced what all are experiencing — being a pro football player is different. It’s a full-time job.
“This is my entire focus,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about anything else but football.”