If someone had told Nick Long at the time he entered high school that he would leave four years later as one of the top 10 athletes in Northeast Georgia over the course of the last decade, he would have probably responded with a perplexed look on his face.
There might be another look of disbelief if you’d told Long that his ticket to local notoriety was in running, a sport he’d never participated in except for a year of cross country in seventh grade.
“I would have never thought at the time I would have been considered one of the top 10 athletes,” Long said. “There are so many great athletes from this area.”
When Long entered North Hall High in the fall of 2004, he was just trying to make a name for himself on the basketball and soccer teams.
He’d also played football before, a sport that was dear to family members. However, he graduated from North Hall in 2008 as an elite runner on the state level with three state titles in track (800 meter, 1,600 and 3,200) and was a key part with the Trojans’ cross country state title team his junior season.
Pretty solid accomplishments for someone who had to be persuaded to come out to the track by a future teammate and close friend.
That fateful conversation for Long took place with fellow cross country runner Grant Russell, who was a class ahead of Long, in the halls of the school early in his freshman year.
Russell remembered Long from running together two years earlier at North Hall Middle. The older runner saw that Long had potential in cross country and wasn’t going to let him back out of trying the sport at the high school level without giving a plea to come out for just one practice and then decide.
In the end, Long agreed to show up for the first practice, which happened to be a time trial for a 5K race.
“I didn’t even know what a time trial was at the time,” Long said.
However, Long left that day with a team-best in the time trial and was starting to see that he could succeed as a runner.
Running soon became so much of a priority that he left the basketball court and soccer pitch permanently. Long says the camaraderie that came with running was one of the main selling points that made the sport addictive.
“I was running with my brothers out there,” Long said.
Long is now preparing for his sophomore season at the University of Georgia where he runs cross country and track. As a freshman, Long set personal bests in the 800 and 1,500 in track. His long term goal is to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is located in the Northeast Georgia History Center on the campus of Brenau University.
The History Center will recognize athletic excellence at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m., Aug. 29, at the Georgia Mountain Center in downtown Gainesville. Guest speaker Damon Evans, athletic director for the University of Georgia, will help honor 15 Northeast Georgia Athletes and one highly successful team. There will be five retired athletes inducted into the Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and an additional “Elite 10” athletes, some of Northeast Georgia’s best athletes of the last 10 years.
Table sponsorships are available for $350, and table sponsors may choose to have their table host one of the athletes to be recognized on a first-come, first-served basis. A limited number of individual tickets are available for $25. Call the History Center at 770-297-5900 to make your reservations.