He doesn’t put up the kind of gaudy stats that have earned others BND Player of the Week honors.
But, week after week, Columbia senior quarterback Greg Long has been as steady as a metronome, ticking off the rhythm to one of the metro-east’s most efficient offenses.
Behind Long, the Eagles are 7-0 and coming off an important 33-6 Cahokia Conference Mississippi Division win over previously unbeaten Central High School. Their first-year starting signal caller was 12-for-18 passing for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Those aren’t the video game numbers of, say, Granite City quarterback Freddy Edwards, who rushed for 267 yards and passed for 125 more against Alton, but Long was as efficient against the Cougars as he has been consistent since week 1.
“I can draw up anything on the board and we are a spread team, so we like to put guys in position to get open,” said Columbia’s head coach Scott Horner, who is in his 16th year at the helm. “But it’s up to him to recognize where to throw it and to be accurate. His decisions are sound and his accuracy in throwing a football is spot on.”
Long’s 158.7 passer rating after seven games is considered perfect. He’s gotten there by completing 76.7 percent of his 99 pass attempts for 1,105 yards and 15 touchdowns and has yet to be intercepted. In the metro-east, only Red Bud’s Griffin Ziebold is comparable with a QB rating of 156.54.
The Eagles, meanwhile, average nearly 42 points and 355 yards per game.
A new offensive system implemented by Horner for this season gives the quarterback at least three options on each play. It’s a scheme Long has been able to pick up quickly and which he credits for the success he’s had.
“I honestly credit the play calling and the new system,” Long said. “I’ve got multiple options on every play. We pass quickly and try to pinpoint the lapses in the defense. If I’m able to get the ball out quickly, it’s really effective. I’ve gotten enough snaps now to where I have it by memory.”
Long also is well supported by a deep bunch of receivers, 10 of which have caught passes from him.
Junior Jordan Holmes — who pressed Long for the starting quarterback job in the preseason — is Columbia’s top receiver with 41 catches for 722 yards, both of which are best in the metro-east this year. He also has 10 receptions for touchdowns.
“If Jordan was four inches taller, there’s no doubt we’d be talking about him as the best receiver in the entire area,” Long said. “He’s the best athlete ever to come through Columbia, in my opinion. We can put him anywhere and he’ll be able to play.”
Long was the starting quarterback for the Eagles freshman and junior varsity teams, but threw just two passes in 2015 as the understudy for BND All-Area honorable mention Drew Huebner. But he was among team leaders with 60 tackles as a defensive back.
He continues to help himself as Columbia’s place kicker, a position Horner says Long handles with equal reliability.
“He’s not getting a lot of chances for field goals, but his longest is 42 yards and he’s hit from 55 in practice,” Horner said. “That’s not what’s most impressive, in my opinion. I’d say 90 percent or more of his kickoffs end up as touchbacks. That sets up our defense with a huge advantage.”
In fact, Horner says if the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Long wants to continue playing in college, kicking might be his best chance.
But Long says whatever is ahead for the remainder of this season will lead to the end of his football career.
At the very minimum, he hopes that will be an IHSA Class 4A playoff semifinal berth against either Atlhoff or Rochester. The Eagles’ season ended last year with a quarterfinal loss to Mater Dei. Columbia has games remaining this year against Red Bud (6-1) and Jerseyville (2-5).
“They’ve underestimated us this year,” he said. “We’ve proven some people wrong and I’m hoping it stays that way.”
Tuesday, however, Long submitted his application to Saint Louis University, where he plans eventually to study medicine.