By JOHN KEKIS
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 5:58 AM
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- His bald head glistening in the glare of television lights, Rob Long smiled with each answer he gave, a look of supreme satisfaction etched on his face.
Pro day at Syracuse was one for the memory bank.
"I thought it went pretty well. I'm happily surprised with what they saw," said Long, who had a cancerous brain tumor removed in December. "That was kind of my goal going into it, just to prove myself that I could still punt and I could still kick, that I was ready to compete at the next level for a job. Hopefully, some of those guys were impressed. It's only going to get better."
While a spring snowstorm raged outside, scouts from 24 NFL teams huddled inside the cozy confines of Manley Field House on Wednesday to take a closer look at 16 former Orange players.
Tailback Delone Carter continued to excel, as did linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith, and the teams that also made the side trip to the Carrier Dome had to be impressed by Long.
Three months ago, his future didn't seem so bright. Toward the end of last season, Long, a captain for two years, notified the Syracuse sports medicine staff that he had been experiencing headaches for several weeks. An MRI exam performed in early December revealed a tumor, and nine days after it was removed tests showed that it was cancer.
Still, Long was on the sideline in Yankee Stadium for the Orange's victory over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl and has never given up on his lifelong dream of playing professionally.
"After the surgery and now having time to practice, I feel much more confident, much more fluid in my motions and my ball-striking," said Long, who's been working out for three weeks. "That's awesome, just to have that back. I don't think I'm where I was yet, and I know I will get there and hopefully surpass that. But I'm going to keep working, get as good as I can get."
That was pretty good.
Long finished his Syracuse career second on the school's punting average list at 43.3 yards per punt. That ranked ninth among active punters in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Last fall, he averaged 43.8 yards, second in the Big East Conference behind Pittsburgh's Dan Hutchins and third on Syracuse's single-season list.
"They had to take Rob away from Manley because he kept hitting the roof," said Orange strength and conditioning coach Will Hicks. "They wanted to know how far they (the punts) were going. He looks great. The scouts were very excited to have him perform today. He's got some individual workouts set up with teams. We're all excited that he's back doing what he does best."
Carter, who overcame a dislocated hip after his freshman year to fashion an impressive career with the Orange - he finished as the school's third career leading rusher with more than 3,000 yards - said he felt like he improved his performance from the NFL combine last month in Indianapolis.
Projected as an early round selection in the NFL draft, Carter said he was fulfilling the dream of a lifetime and that the state of the pro game wasn't having an effect on his psyche.
"This has been a dream of mine forever," Carter said. "The lockout is the lockout. I really don't care. I'm just happy to have the opportunity and (be able) take advantage of it."
To a man, the players said they felt they performed well. Hicks said that was no surprise.
"Our kids should perform better," Hicks said. "When they go to the NFL combine, they have to follow their schedule. When they come here, basically, the scouts follow our schedule. So, they're a little more comfortable here, the way we warm them up, the way we prepare them, the way we get 'em ready, take the time to get the best day we can for our athletes."
Despite the satisfaction of knowing that the resurgence of the program in two years under head coach Doug Marrone had attracted NFL teams to observe at least double the number of prospects as a year ago, the former players seemed to be focused as much on Long as themselves.
"Rob's a strong guy. He's an inspiration for a lot of people," offensive lineman Ryan Bartholomew said. "Just to see him out there punting, just hanging out like nothing happened, is truly amazing."
"It's like you can't tell nothing was wrong with him," Carter said. "He's like Superman."