The first high school tight end commitment under this University of Kentucky coaching staff, Darryl Long arrived in Lexington last summer expecting to find his way onto the football field immediately.
A couple of then-teammates — and now-NFL rookies — let him know there was still much work to be done.
"He had to go against Bud (Dupree) in practice. And Za'Darius (Smith)," said UK tight ends coach Vince Marrow. "That told him he wasn't ready."
So instead of playing, Long practiced during the weeks and spent his Saturdays on the sidelines. Looking back now, that was the right call.
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"I definitely understood," Long said. "This is a big-boy league. I felt I could have definitely contributed to the passing game. But ... I needed to be a true tight end. That year did me a lot of good."
Long showed up on the practice field earlier this month looking like a totally different player, and those within the program have certainly noticed the transformation.
His position coach has seen it.
"He's a long kid that can run, can catch the ball, can get down the field," Marrow said. "I like where his body's at."
His quarterback has seen it.
"He was pretty raw last year," said Patrick Towles. "He's really done a good job of really learning. He's always asking questions. He's really got that child mindset that you need. He's making a lot of plays. He's a big body, and we're going to need him to play."
Long can feel the difference.
"I just feel more confident," he said. "I definitely feel bigger, stronger and faster."
The 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman passed the look test during UK's first open practice a couple of weeks ago, standing out physically in a group of pass-catchers that's as big as any the Wildcats have featured in years.
Long said he played at about 215 pounds in high school — "I didn't have a big appetite" — and started putting on the pounds once he got involved with the Cats' strength and conditioning program.
Now listed at 246 pounds, Long says he's achieved his current size by "eating constantly," working extra in the weight room and even randomly dropping down for pushups around the house.
"I really challenged myself this offseason to get my body where it's supposed to be for an SEC tight end," he said.
His football mind is growing, too.
Considered one of the nation's top 20 tight ends coming out of high school, Long didn't have to be fundamentally sound to excel on the field in those days. Even the smaller version of himself was so much bigger than everyone else, he could coast by on size and raw talent.
"I watch that film now, and my technique was real bad," he said. "Even my route-running was like, 'Aw, man.' So it's just night and day."
The ability to catch passes was always there, but Marrow says Long has stepped up his run-blocking — a skill that will be even more important under Shannon Dawson than it was under former offensive coordinator Neal Brown — along with his awareness running routes.
Long said he didn't have to block on the line at all in high school, and it's still the biggest transition as he blossoms into a college player.
"It's just learning the steps, being physical, staying low," he said. "Doing all of the things that a tight end's supposed to do."
Fellow freshman C.J. Conrad — the star of UK's recruiting class of 2015 — has assumed the No. 1 spot on the Wildcats' depth chart at tight end, but Long isn't conceding anything.
The two youngsters are feeding off each other in practice, and all involved say the competition is good for both players.
No matter who holds the top spot going into Saturdays this fall, expect to see both of them on the field.
"You guys ask a lot about C.J., but Darryl is right there," Marrow said. "They're both going to play a lot. ... They're really, really pushing each other, and it's been a good battle. Darryl's not taking a backseat."