Though he made a name for himself through sports, Albert Long will be remembered as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Long was a tremendous athlete for the Tar Heels in the 1950s, lettering in four sports during his time at UNC — the only athlete to do so in the ACC. He would go on to form relationships with other UNC legends, such as Dean Smith, Mack Brown and George Karl before he died on Oct. 28. He was 88 years old.
Long’s son, Mike, said he believes that sports was the beginning of God’s plan for Albert’s life.
“The unique thing about dad and how Christ used him in ministry was the fact that he got those four letters at Chapel Hill,” Long said. “That fourth letter is what brought attention to him as a very famous athlete back in the '50s.”
Albert, as described by his son, was a superstar athlete at Durham High School. He led his school's football team to the state championship in each of his four years at quarterback. During his time at UNC, Long played varsity football, basketball, baseball and track.
He later became involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or FCA, after college. Johnny Evans, the eastern North Carolina FCA director, met Long through the organization. Evans made his first impressions of him, however, when Evans was a high school athlete himself. Long would go to different high schools and speak through his own ministry called Happenings, Inc.
“Most young people, you get an athlete or a coach or somebody that’s recognizable to speak and share, then you usually have their attention,” Evans said. “So Albert sort of leveraged that platform of sports.”
Evans would later have the opportunity to do ministry with Long in FCA. They drove to events together and shared conversations with each other during those car rides. He remembers the vigor that Long brought when sharing the Gospel.
“He had a unique way to share it,” Evans said. “He was funny. He was articulate. I remember his energy. Even though he’s almost 25 years older than me, he had more energy than me.”
Mitch Mason, the chaplain for the UNC football team, met Long through Evans after attending a Bible study about eight years ago. From there, Mason cultivated a strong friendship with Long that spanned nearly a decade. He admired the way Long did ministry and shared the Gospel while also being a great friend.
“He was a friend, a mentor, a confidant,” Mason said. “He was a guy that I looked up to because he had done what I’m doing now.”
Mason learned from Long about prioritizing family and commitments while doing ministry. Mason had held a similar role at Clemson University, and Long helped him upon his arrival to UNC.
“All this was new to me,” Mason said. “So Albert was really that guy that just took me under his wing and taught me a lot about ministry and really taught me a lot about family.”
During their friendship, Mason recalls trying to meet with Long once a month at Starbucks. While spending time with him, he described the infectious energy that Long brought with him, saying that “he never met a stranger.”
“You’re either a thermostat or a thermometer,” Mason said. “You either change the temperature of the room or you convert to the temperature of the room. That thermostat, it gauges the temperature and it sets it. And that’s what Albert was.”
Mason said that while he will miss Long, he will do his best to carry on his legacy in his own life.
Mike Long also spoke to the liveliness that his father often exuded. When describing his father, he makes it simple.
“Loud, energetic, full of life and a ton of fun,” Long said. “That’s the best way I can describe it. There was never a dull moment when Albert Long was around.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.