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Warren Long: Northwestern Running Back, Musician, Barber and Teenager

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Right from the start, Warren Long had an important disclaimer to get off his chest.

“I usually don’t talk to the media that much,” he said. You see this sort of righteous coyness from college athletes every now and then. They don’t trust the hordes of messenger bag-wielding middle-aged reporters shoving thousands of iPhones and audio recorders under their noses, because why should they? “I just feel like I can get my words twisted sometimes,” Long explained further.

After a few minutes of common pleasantries, after gradually whittling away his reserved tentativeness, Long let his guard down, and it was hard not to wonder – after a nearly 30-minute conversation that had less to do with football and more to do with, for lack of a better description, not football – why Long is so hesitant to speak up in the first place.

His personality, and backstory, beg further questioning. For starters, Long, a freshman running back from Union City, Cal., considers himself a Californian by birthright only. Long’s mom grew up in the Phillipines, and his dad is from Pittsburgh. He just happened to be born in California, but claims to bear not a trace of the typical provincial West Coast ideology.

“Most kids here are pretty much just set on Pac 12 schools,” he said. “I’m not a closed-minded person. I wanted to try something different – to get that college experience away from home.”

After receiving a scholarship offer from offensive coordinator Mick McCall last spring, Long waited a couple months, picked up a few offers (including Oregon State, Colorado and Army) and then committed to the Wildcats. He was waving farewell to a year-round residence in his customary insular, Bay Area, Pac-12 infested milieu, and he also might be leaving behind something else.

For seven years Long has played acoustic guitar, even entering competitions and recitals during his middle school years, a practiced skill and a love for music and dedication to a non-athletic, non-academic endeavor. Now guitar is just a hobby. The attitude with which he approaches his production work – an extended sampling of which can be found here – more closely resembles his devoted middle school mindset.

Unlike his Bay Area peers, Long wants to be perfectly clear: popularized “hyphy” hip-hop is not his thing, and sometimes, it’s hard not to be left feeling totally nonplussed by the misconceptions. “Bay Area is very misrepresented. People think we’re a bunch of weirdos,” he said. Long disassociates himself from the mainstream genre with a professed love for R&B, and his musical sophistication shines through in his production work.

“I love music,” he said. Long wants to continue his beat-making while at Northwestern, but is understandably concerned with his ability to simultaneously manage schoolwork, a social life, his other, other, spare-time plaything – a fascination with cutting hair (“I want to become a barber,” he said) – and, sure, some time for track and football nestled in between.

Totally brushing aside the physical and time demands required to play Division I football, pushing to the periphery, for a moment, just how physically and mentally draining getting scouted by major conference programs can be, Long is a seasoned Renaissance man.

If you’re honest and plainly up-front when asking him about it, Long plays everything off as merely ordinary. He reduces his expansive reservoir of skills and open-minded perspective and dexterous cosmetic and music abilities to casual conversation. Because every coveted Division I football recruit plays guitar, concocts beats for various “guys” or “artists” in different cities, cuts hair as an honest-to-goodness no-joke proposition, plans on earning a business degree – and then, somehow, without manipulating the atomic crevices of the space-time continuum, finds enough time to lift and run and study film and do everything necessary to excel in the sport he loves.

“I dabble in production,” Long clarified, as if to emphasize that, for whatever impression his vast range of off-field diversions may have given off, he’s coming to Evanston with one main goal on his mind in his first year: playing as a true freshman.

Competing for a spot in Northwestern’s running back corps this season will require Long to outpace some already proven contributors within the Wildcats’ backfield group. If he can’t break the rotation this year, the competition could be even stiffer next season, when the Wildcats will welcome 2014 commits Justin Jackson and Auston Anderson.

The recent run of commitments didn’t fly under Long’s social media-tethered (@LarrenWong) eyes; he welcomes next season’s load of running back talent as a challenge.

“If I don’t play, it’s because I’m not good enough,” he said. “They’re going to challenge me and I’m going to challenge them. I have a year of a head start.”

Every Saturday last season, Long developed a routine for watching Northwestern games. Sometime around 9 am, he would turn on the TV, joined by his family, including his two sisters, aged 12 and 21, and watch his future program fight its way to a 10-win season. He expects more big things from the Wildcats in 2013, and it all starts with a convenient nearby game at Cal. on Aug. 31, a game his family plans to attend.

“They’ll be there,” he says.

Sorry, Warren, but not even the Chicago-area Wildcats can completely slice away your West Coast roots.