football

Scholarships for long snappers on the rise

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TayborPepperweighedjust175poundswhenhebeganhissenioryearatSaline(Mich.)HighSchoollastfall,yetheownsaBigTenfootballscholarshipandhopestosnapforMichiganStateasatruefreshman.
"It'samazing,"Peppersaid.
Pepperwon'tbeanevery-downlinemanforMichiganState.Eventhoughhehasincreasedhisweightto195andplanstogain15morepoundsbytimeheenrollsincollege,Pepperisn'tnearlybigenoughforthatchallenge.Buthisimprobablestoryunderscoresthegrowingimportanceofdeepsnappersincollegefootball.
Atleast25ofthe121non-academiesintheFBSrankshavelongsnapperswhowereawardedscholarshipsdirectlyoutofhighschoolorjuniorcollege.Rivals.comnationalrecruitinganalystMikeFarrellestimatesthatrepresentsabouta20percentincreaseoverthelastfiveorsixyears.
AndhowmuchofachangeisitfromthesituationChrisRubioencounteredwhenhesnappedforUCLAfrom1994-97?
"It'snightandday,"saidRubio,whohastutoredmanyofthescholarshipsnappersastheheadoftheRubioLongSnappingcamp.
Rubiosaiddeepsnapperswerefortunatetoearnrosterspotsaspreferredwalk-onswhenhewascomingoutofhighschool.Theideaofasnapperreceivingascholarshipdirectlyoutofhighschoolwasunheardofatthetime.
Hehasnoticedthattrendchangingeachyearinthedecadesincehestartedhiscamp.HisclientsthisyearearnedscholarshipsfromthelikesofLSU,WestVirginia,NotreDameandArizonaStateaswellasMichiganState.
"It'sbecomemoreofaspecialtypositionwherekidsaretrainedtodothatexactlyfromseventhgradeoreighthgrade,"MichiganStatespecialteamscoachMikeTresselsaid."Whenyoureallystarttrainingandgettingspecificinonearea,youcanjumpalotofotherpeoplewhoarejusttryingtopickthatupasanadditionalskill.They'repolished.They'rereadytogo.They'refocused.Becausethey'resofocusedsoearlyandthey'retrainingspecificallyforthatandgoingtocampsandworkingwithexpertswho'vedonethatintheNFL,they'rereadytoroll."
AsPeppercanattest,longsnappersdon'thavetobequiteasbigasthe300-poundcenterswhosnaptheballonfirst,secondandthirddown.Rubiosaidtheidealsnapperisabout6-foot-3and240pounds,thougheachcoachcanhaveadifferentpreference.
Duringfield-goalattempts,teamsoftenputtheirlargestplayersatguardtohelpthesnapperinprotection.Someteamsoftendesignpuntschemesinwhichthesnapperdoesn'thavetodomuchinprotectionandinsteadfocusesoncoverage.
That'swhysizeisn'tnearlyasimportantasconsistency.Asnapper'sbiggestchallengeisavoidingthemistakethatgetshimnoticedforallthewrongreasons.
"CollegecoachestreatagoodlongsnapperlikeaHondaAccord,"Rubiosaid."They'renottheflashiest,butit'sgoingtostarteverysingletimeyouturnthekey.That'swhattheywantwiththeirsnappers.Theywanttorecruitthem,signthemandnottalktothemagainuntiltheygraduate.''
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OftensnappersmustwaituntilafterNationalSigningDaybeforegettingoffered,asteamssortouttheirrostersanddeterminewhethertheyneedtouseascholarshipatthatposition.That'swhathappenedtoPepperandCumming(Ga.)PinecrestAcademy'sJohnDePalma.
DePalma,whojuststartedsnappingabout18monthsago,signedwithWestVirginiaonMarch2.Pepper,whohadexpectedtoenrollatMichiganasapreferredwalk-on,insteadacceptedascholarshipofferfromMichiganStatelastmonth.PepperwillhaveachancetowinthejobthisfallbecauseincumbentMattGiampapalefttheteamforpersonalreasons.
"Firstandforemost,we'verecognizedthatspecialteamshaswonussomeballgamesinthepastcoupleofyears,"Tresselsaid."It'shugeforus.Longsnapper'sobviouslyoneofthosepositionsthatyoudon'trealizehowimportantitisuntilyoudon'thaveit.Wecametoaconclusionwedon'twanttogetourselvescaughtinthatposition.Wenotonlywanttohaveone;wewanttohavecompetitionforthatpositionlikeeveryotherpositiononourfootballteam.''
WhilePepperandDePalmahadtowaitpatientlyfortheiropportunities,agrowingnumberofsnappersaregettingpursuedmuchearlierintherecruitingprocess.
ThemostrecentbeneficiaryofthischangingattitudeisBakersfield(Calif.)Liberty'sColeMazza,whoreceivedthreeoffersfromPac-12programsbeforefinishinghisjunioryearinhighschool.Mazza,arguablythetopsnapperinthe2013class,announcedtwoweeksagothathehadchosenUCLAoverUtahandWashingtonState.
"It'sprettyexcitingtoknowallthistimeI'vebeensnapping,Iactuallymadesomethingofit,"Mazzasaid."It'sprettysurprisingtome;Iactuallyhavemycollegepaidfor.It'srealitynowthatIcanplaycollegefootball.Ithadbeenmydreamgrowingup."
Whyaremorecollegesofferingscholarshipstosnappers?Foronething,theyunderstandthecostsassociatedwithmakingaspecialteamsmistakeatthewrongtime.
"Specialteamshasbecomesoimportant,"Farrellsaid."One[breakdown]cancostyouagame.Onegamecancostyouachanceatanationaltitle.Soyou'reseeinganincrease.''
Andthegrowthofsnappingcampshashelpedmakethenation'stopsnappersbetterthantheywereadecadeago.
Collegesgenerallywantlongsnappersnowwhoaremakingthat15-yardsnaptothepunterinlessthanthree-quartersofasecond.ReidFerguson,anearlyenrolleeatLSU,consistentlycompletesitin0.65seconds.RubiosaidMazzahasbeentimedat0.55seconds.
They'realsobeginningtosnapatayoungerage.Rubiosaidhenowhasprospectivesnapperscomingtohiscampsinseventhgrade-orevenearlier.
"It'salmostliketakinganSATbeforeitevencounts,"Rubiosaid."Yougetusedtoitandfeelthepressure,sobythetimethey'reajuniororsenior,theycandominate."
RubionotedthatReidFergusonbeganattendinghiscampsintheeighthgradeandgraduallyimprovedtothepointthathereceivedascholarshipofferfromLSU.Ferguson'syoungerbrother,Blake,oftentaggedalongatthosecamps.BlakeFergusonhassincedevelopedintosuchagoodsnapperinhisownrightthathe'salegitimatelong-rangecollegeprospectasaninth-grader.
Thosefamilyconnectionsaren'tunusual.Eventhoughmoreandmoreschoolsareusingscholarshipsonlongsnappers,itapparentlyremainsabitofasecret.Manyofthetopsnappersgotstartedattheurgingofafriendorafamilymember.
Mazzabegansnappinginpartbecausehisfatherhaddoneitinhighschool.Pepperalsobegansnappingontheadviceofhisfather,CamPepper,aformerIllinoisoffensivelinemanwhohadtakenupsnappinghimselfinanattempttomakeitintheNFL.
"Sincehehadabasicunderstanding,heknewthatitwaspossible,Icouldhaveafutureinit,"Peppersaid."I'dneverreallythoughtmuchaboutit."
OrconsiderthecaseofDePalma.The6-foot-6highschoolseniorpreferredbasketballtofootballformuchofhisadolescence.Hedidn'tevenstartsnappinguntilthewinterof2010afterafriendfromhishighschool,BryceHaynes,gotascholarshipoffertosnapforOhioState.
"Hesaid,'You'vegottotrythisout,'''DePalmasaid."SoIkindofpickeditupandrolledwithit."
HaynesandDePalmacamefromPinecrestAcademy,atinyCatholicschoolwithroughly300studentsfromninththrough12thgrade.Yetthankstolongsnapping,thatschoolhasproducedamajor-conferencefootballrecruiteachofthelasttwoyears.
Thesesnappershavedifferenttrainingmethods.
DePalma,arelativenewcomertothecraft,snapped100timeseachdaytohisfatherasawaytoimprovehistechnique.Peppersaid20-30snapsperdayaremorethanenough.
"I'mnotsnappingforquantity,"Mazzasaid."I'msnappingforquality.Iwanttoget20perfectballsinarow.Howmanysnapsittakestoget20perfectsnaps,I'llbedoneafterthat.''
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ClickHeretoviewthisLink.Butmanyofthemhavesimilarbackgrounds.
Plentyofthetopsnappersknoweachotherafterworkingtogetheratcamps.PepperconsidersReidFergusononeofhisclosestfriendsandsaidthey're"justlikebrothers."
Theyallcantellsimilartalesaboutthelackofrespecttheyreceivedforsnapping,atleastupuntilthedaytheywereofferedscholarships.
"Peoplewouldtellmethere'snouseinalongsnapper,thatyoucanjustmoveatightendorad-endtolongsnapper,"Peppersaid."Then[after]someofthe...gamesthatjusthappenedwithmessed-upsnaps,Igottweetsfromteammatessaying,'Oh,yeah,Iseehowimportantitistohaveagoodlongsnapper.'There'sreallynoglamourinit,butanytimesomebodyelsemessesup,yourteamrealizeshowmuchtheyneedyou.''
Moreandmorecollegecoachesarestartingtorealizethataswell.
SteveMegargeeisthenationalcollegecolumnistforRivals.com.Hecanbereachedatsmegargee@rivals.com,andyoucanclickheretofollowhimonTwitter.
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