When Kyle Long set foot on campus in Eugene as a transfer from Saddleback College in 2012, he was tasked with finding a way to untap his raw athleticism in an effort to crack an already established Oregon Ducks offensive line.
His veteran to look up to on the Ducks was none other than Hroniss Grasu.
Grasu, already a mainstay on Oregon's line as the starting center of an intricate but dominant Chip Kelly offense, took Long under his wing to help him grasp what it would take to excel as an athlete both on and off the field at a college football powerhouse.
The decision to lean on Grasu was a wise one for Long.
Long went on to make five starts for the Ducks during the 2012 season, raising his draft stock in the process. Long's brief success at Oregon resulted in him being chosen in the first round (20th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Bears. Since then, Long has started 31 games at right guard for the Bears and garnered two Pro Bowl selections, the first offensive lineman in Bears franchise history to achieve the latter.
"It's crazy," Grasu told CSNChicago.com. "I was just telling somebody this morning it's just crazy how times have changed when he came to Oregon. I was a guy there and I was helping him out, showing him around and now it's the complete opposite. Now I'm looking up to him. Learning from him and just having him here and how good of a football player he is, how smart he is and the attitude he brings to the game. Everybody can learn from him.
"He's been giving me advice ever since he left Oregon. Every year we were always talking all the time. He told me, 'Just go out there and have fun, like you're a kid in the backyard having fun. Treat it like it's backyard football with your friends. If you're having a fun attitude towards it, you'll play better.' Just seeing the way Kyle works at the game and does everything about football, you've got to have fun."
Once the pupil trying to absorb as much knowledge as he could, Long has now become the teacher, imparting his wisdom on one of his closest friends.
"When I came into Oregon, Hroniss was pretty much my vet," Long said. "He was this two-year starting center and I was a guy fighting for a spot on the team, and now I'm trying to help him out with calls and stuff. It's pretty funny."
And it's no surprise that Long played a big part in making sure that Chicago would be Grasu's NFL landing spot.
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When the Bears signed 32-year-old veteran center Will Montgomery, who played for Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase with the Denver Broncos and called his move to Chicago with the aforementioned coaches a "package deal," it looked like the chances of the Bears drafting an heir apparent to recently departed center Roberto Garza would be slim.
However, unbeknownst to the Bears front office was that a four-year starter with 52 games under his belt, a team captain that helped Oregon win two Pac-12 titles and reach the BCS Championship, along with three All-Conference awards would still be sitting on the board in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Grasu's relationship with Long was just the icing on the cake for the Bears.
"It was kind of late in the process," Bears GM Ryan Pace said last spring after selecting Grasu with the 71st overall selection in the NFL Draft. "We kind of had our evaluations in. Hroniss is easy; his makeup is off the charts. There’s certain guys on our board that we’ll check a ‘Bears’ box, a little ‘Bear’ that’ll pop up. To us, that’s a guy who has every trait we’re looking for. His makeup is outstanding. Grasu is one of those guys.
“And Kyle Long just confirmed all those things when we talked to him.”
Grasu couldn't have been more thrilled to hear his name called by the Bears, knowing he was going to a city like Chicago where his friend has already emerged as one of the leaders of the offense.
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"I'm just so proud to be a part of this organization and part of this city," Grasu said. "It's a great city, great people, great fans and I just hope I can help this team win as many games as you can and make all the fans proud of us and have the stadium sold out every game."
For the first time in his football career, Grasu joins a team where he isn't tasked with starting duties from Week 1. With Montgomery in the fold, Grasu will likely spend his rookie season learning Gase's offensive sytem, but he has two valuable assests in Long and Montgomery.
"I'm Just trying to learn the whole offense and just learn what everybody has to do and I think that every single day I'm getting better at that," Grasu said. "Knowing just not what I have to do at center, but what all five guys on the offensive line have to do and that just makes the game so much easier. Knowing what everyone's assignment is it just slows it down for me. I need to keep doing that and stay on top of my playbook and just going out there and being comfortable. At center you have to be a vocal leader out there, make the call and line up with confidence with everybody on the same page."
If Grasu the student is anything like Grasu the teacher, the Bears and Pace will have earned a passing grade in last April's Draft.