WHEATON – College Football Hall of Fame inductee Chuck Long became the first Big Ten Conference quarterback to pass for more than 10,000 yards in a career.
But when Long was getting ready to graduate from Wheaton North High School in 1981, he really didn't know where his football career was going to take him.
"I didn't get my first telephone call from a major university until December of my senior year," Long said, in talking to Wheaton North students Dec. 15. "The University of Iowa called me up, and they wanted me to come on an official visit. I never looked back. I stepped foot on that campus, and I wanted to be an Iowa Hawkeye."
Long learned he would soon have to get down to work.
"I didn't know anything about the passing game," he said. "We really didn't have to read coverages in high school. So when I got to Iowa, I'll be honest with you, I was overwhelmed. Some of you might have that feeling. I'm sure the freshmen had that feeling coming into Wheaton North. But if you have confidence and work through it, you'll get through it. If you work hard, good things will happen."
His hard work paid off. In 1982, Long led Iowa to a 28-22 win over Tennessee in the Peach Bowl, which had been Iowa's first victory in a bowl game since 1959.
After graduating from Iowa, Long went on to play in the NFL for the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams. These days, he is the executive director and chief executive officer for the Iowa Sports Foundation, which has the mission of providing sports, recreation, health and wellness opportunities for Iowans of all abilities. He also is an analyst for the Big Ten Network.
But Long has never forgotten his roots.
"One thing that my father taught me was to never forgot where you come from," Long said. "He taught me that at an early age. I loved growing up here in the great town of Wheaton. I'd love to go back to high school and do it all over again. Once a Falcon, always a Falcon."
Long moved to Wheaton when he was 3, attending Hawthorne Elementary School, Franklin Middle School and Wheaton North High School. He fondly remembers his high school coach, Jim Rexilius.
"He was an ex-Marine, and he was very disciplined," Long said. "He taught us the art of discipline, and he made sure we were like that every single day."
Long also signed copies of his new book, "Chuck Long: Destined for Greatness: The Story of Chuck Long and Resurgence of Iowa Hawkeyes Football" during a basketball game Dec. 15. Some of the proceeds from the book will go to Wheaton North.
Alexia Ellett, assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Wheaton North, said she liked the inspirational tone of Long's talk.
"I think he was both inspiring to the kids and to the adults," Ellett said. "He has such enthusiasm for his time here and a shared love of Wheaton and Wheaton North that all of us feel as well, being a part of this community."