Former head trainer still healing athletic injuries

Former UNA head athletic trainer Johnny Long (middle) assists current head trainer Josh Penny (white), as they help defensive back Jalen Reedus off the field after an injury. Long still has a hand in helping athletes treat injuries, as well as teaching classes as a professor.

Performing the same duties for over 40 years, even after retirement, makes it hard to deny someone’s passion.

Johnny Long, a 44-year member of the university, is part of the UNA Hall of Fame as the university’s former head athletic trainer. Long may have retired from the head position, but he still has a hand in its operation, and people can find him on the sidelines of almost every UNA football game.

“(Being on the sideline) is fun, and I still enjoy doing it,” Long said. “The biggest thing I have gotten out of being here is when a player comes back on homecoming or a big event and they thank me for helping them somehow. That means a lot to me.”

Although Long has a large impact on many people at UNA, he said the university as a whole has an impact on him.

“UNA has been my life,” Long said. “I got my education here, and I was involved in sports. When I got hurt, I started getting into athletic training. I’ve worked with a lot of great people.”

Josh Penny, UNA’s head athletic trainer since 2003, said he considers Long a mentor.

“He is Mr. UNA,” Penny said. “He’s given me a lot of direction on how to handle certain situations. I go to him for advice still to this day. We’ve built a great mentor relationship, but also kind of a father-son relationship.”

Penny said one of his most memorable moments was at Long’s facility-naming ceremony, where the athletic training room was named in his honor. Penny gave an emotional speech on Long’s impact on UNA’s athletic training program.

“I was very honored and excited to speak on his behalf,” he said. “I’ve been working for a long time to give Johnny the respect he deserves. He’s done so much not only for the athletic department, but also the physical education department.

“I know a lot of people know who Johnny Long is, but it was nice to go out there and tell the crowd who he really is and what he means to UNA.”

Freshman Bubba Allen, who is a newcomer to the athletic training program, said it did not take long for him to realize how important Long is to UNA.

“He’s not even the athletic trainer here anymore, but he still shows up for every game,” Allen said. “He’s one of the best guys you’ll ever meet. Everybody knows him around here and loves him. The first day I walk in, I see the pictures of him in the training room. I realized right away he was special here.”

Long often jokes about being a “legend” at UNA, downplaying his honors and achievements. He said he is thankful to touch the lives of enough people to even receive the considerations of a legend.

“I tease people about the legend thing all the time,” Long said. “I don’t want to be cliché, but it makes me feel like I did something. It’s an honor. I’m just so thankful that I have been selected (for the hall of fame) among a great group of men and women.”

One of the biggest perks of being a professor and athletic trainer for Long is helping students and athletes not only graduate college, but overcome injuries, he said.

Junior Leslie Taylor, who works in the athletic training room, said it encourages her to see Long still involved in the program.

“He’s definitely a mentor and here to encourage us,” Taylor said. “He is very knowledgeable and experienced, so it’s really good to have him on the sidelines. UNA means everything to him, and I think UNA as a whole cherishes the fact that he’s around.”