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Monday, December 29, 2003
Jason Gesser and Rien Long
Former Cougars wait turn in NFL
One year ago, quarterback Jason Gesser and Outland Trophy winner Rien Long were headed to the Rose Bowl as headliners.
Today, they are Tennessee Titans rookies headed into the playoffs as deep reserves.
Long, the Outland Trophy winner who left WSU a year early to turn pro, has appeared in only eight games and has made two tackles.
"I'm in the background learning and just waiting for my turn," Long said in a telephone interview from Nashville.
Gesser didn't appear in a regular-season game, which isn't surprising for a first-year NFL quarterback, especially an undrafted one.
For a while, it looked as if Gesser might get to start against the Houston Texans on Dec. 21. However, late in the week the Titans re-signed Neil O'Donnell, the veteran who had been cut in camp. As things turned out, starter Steve McNair (ankle, calf) was able to play and led the team to its 11th win.
O'Donnell was signed to replace backup Billy Volek, who lacerated his spleen one week earlier.
After winning the Outland, Long initially said he was coming back to WSU for his senior season, then changed his mind.
Asked if he has any regrets about his decision, Long replied, "No, none at all."
"I don't look back," he said, describing the options in his decision as "win-win."
He said, "I get to play football, and it's a game I love. ... It would have been fun to be at WSU this year, too."
Although there was speculation Long might be a first-round selection, WSU coaches made Long aware of NFL evaluations that he was unlikely to be drafted until around the fourth round. They told him his draft status would improve if he returned for his senior year.
Some at WSU blame ESPN sportscaster Mark May for persuading Long to turn pro, but Long said, "That's not the case whatsoever.
"I asked advice from him and many others. I talked to everyone. ... Tons of agents. All sorts of people."
A factor in his decision is that he had a son, now 19 months old.
Long said he "can't wait" to get home to Anacortes when the playoffs end and spend time with his son.
Long is making $225,000 this season, as is Gesser, according to NFL Players Association records.
A troublesome knee might have affected Long's draft status, but he said the knee hasn't given him problems this season.
Long said he stays in constant touch with Cougars teammates.
"I talk to them all the time," he said.
In Long's absence this season, Tai Tupai, 6-5, 320 pounds, has stepped up and become a force on the Cougars' defensive line.
"I'm really happy for him," Long said. "My leaving gave him a chance."
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