MOBILE, Ala. — When Hunter Long was 13 years old, he built his first computer.
Long, who grew up in Exeter, N.H., devised a parts list, purchased the materials, and assembled a custom machine.
That finished product as a teenager ended up being his first of many.
Almost 10 years later, Long is about to finish his last semester at Boston College with a degree in computer science — and has since built plenty of computers, including one for Patriots practice-squad tight end Jake Burt. Had things panned out differently, Long probably would be pursuing a career in software upon graduation in May.
Instead, however, he has his sights set on a different path.
This week, Long is one of seven tight endsparticipating in the annual Senior Bowl, a crucial pre-draft event for prospects in a year with limited in-person scouting. Long is considered one of the top options at his position, with some initial projections expecting him to go as early as the third round.
“I just want to get my name out there,” Long said Wednesday night via telephone. “That’s the biggest thing, to be seen by as many coaches and scouts that I can and show them I can excel at this level, I can play at this level, and I can play from, hopefully, a very early-on time.”
Long’s numbers as a redshirt junior last season speak for themselves. He caught 57 passes, to lead the nation at his position, and had 685 yards and five touchdowns. He ranked second in receiving yards, behind Florida’s Kyle Pitts (770).
BC head coach Jeff Hafley, who has spent seven years on NFL coaching staffs, praised Long for his ability to run a variety of routes as well as gain yards after the catch.
“He crushed it from early on in the season and just continued to grow and get better,” Hafley said. “The best thing about him is he’s not a guy with an ego. It’s not, ‘Get me the ball.’ He’s a team-first guy who is tough and smart and reliable.”
With his frame, measuring at 6-foot-5-inches and 254 pounds with an 83-inch wingspan, Long has proven to be a capable blocker, too, both in the run game and in pass protection. That’s what sets him apart, according to Hafley. Long can operate in the box, in addition to extending the field like a wide receiver.
That versatility is important to Long. He identified San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle as a player he would like to emulate because of Kittle’s well-rounded game.
“The biggest thing is being able to show you can be as versatile as possible,” Long said.
Added Hafley: “From an offensive play-caller’s mentality, he can change the game and make it look like the four-wide receiver set or a three-wide receiver set or a two-tight end set. Hunter is going to have more versatility than any of the guys that have that one elite trait.”
While at the Senior Bowl, Long made highlight reels during Tuesday’s practice when he made a sliding catch from Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
But even on a play when he didn’t make a catch, Long’s competitive nature still came through. After Ohio State’s Baron Browning deflected a pass intended for Long and sent him tumbling to the ground, Browning extended a hand. But Long passed up the offer, electing to get up on his own.
BC tight end coach Steve Shimko wasn’t surprised.
“That’s Hunter,” said Shimko. “Losing is not an option, whether that’s losing in a rep of blocking, a rep of one-on-one receiving against a defender, that ain’t an option. He’s going to demand perfection from himself. If something doesn’t go his way, he’s going to get a little pissed off and he’s going to channel that to have a little edge on him the next time he goes.”
Long was limited in Thursday’s practice, not participating in any of the one-on-one drills or team periods. Even if he isn’t competing on the field, though, there are other opportunities for him to make an impression with teams.
“You can really set yourself apart by how you interact with them and how you communicate with them, how your interviews go,” Long said.
To help prepare, BC coaches prepped Long with potential questions from organizations and reviewed parts of the playbook in case he were to be asked about certain schemes. Long reached out to a few of his former teammates, including running back AJ Dillon, who was drafted in the second round last year and now plays for the Green Bay Packers.
There are no official practice reports at the Senior Bowl, and players and coaches do not speak to the media daily, so it’s unclear why Long was not a full participant Thursday. He did not have an injury history at BC, playing every snap but one last season.
Throughout Long’s time on the sideline, however, he stayed engaged with his position group and frequently consulted Miami Dolphins coaches.
If he does play Saturday, Long sounds ready to contribute.
“They throw so much at you with the playbook,” Long said. “I think the biggest thing is knowing you could get thrown in for whatever plays they might have installed or they might not have installed, and you just got to know them. They might be in the back of your playbook, but you have to be prepared when they put you in.
“Coaches like to see players that can go in in any situation at multiple positions and just know what they’re doing. I feel like that’s something that I excel at and have been excelling at.”
Long’s coaches said he is a quick learner with a high football IQ. While at BC, players typically have Mondays off, so they’ll receive the game plan for the week on their iPads. The very next day, Shimko could always tell Long had thoroughly prepared.
“Whether it was a play that he had heard four times or a brand-new play, Hunter was going to come with about a dozen questions every Tuesday morning,” Shimko said. “As far as install goes, he had it pretty much mapped out once he stepped foot in that meeting room Tuesday.”
That high IQ also showed through his performance on the field.
“Whether it’s in the run game, being a communicator on his side of the ball, getting people lined up correctly, or his decision-making in option-route running, he’s able to process the game and react so quickly,” Shimko said. “His functional intelligence is through the roof.”
After the Senior Bowl, Long will fly to California, where he will train until BC’s Pro Day at the end of March. Because the league’s annual scouting combine has been canceled, there will be few other in-person scouting opportunities before the draft is scheduled to begin at the end of April.
In the meantime, Hafley has no problem sharing his endorsement with interested coaches.
“I would put my name on Hunter to any GM or head coach that I know,” Hafley said. “He’s the type of guy, in my opinion, that, god willing he stays healthy and he wants to, he’s going to play in the NFL for 12 years.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.