Long snappers getting more recruiting looks

Eureka (Mo.) senior Zach Hirth (center, in jersey) is rated the nation's No. 2 long snapper by ESPNU and was selected to the 2012 Under Armour All-America Game. Tye Eckert/UnderArmour

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of ESPNHS magazine.

Scott Daly could have gone on vacation during spring break. He could have spent the week hanging out with friends or playing video games 24/7. If nothing else, he could have at least slept in.

Instead, Daly used the spring break of his junior year to chase the unthinkable — a scholarship to be the long snapper for the Notre Dame football team.

Three times during spring break he woke up early enough to make the two-hour commute from Downers Grove, Ill., to South Bend, Ind., to watch the Fighting Irish’s 7:30 a.m. practice. After each session, he chatted intently with coaches and toured different parts of campus before heading home.

It might sound like overkill, but for Daly it was a necessity.

“My only chance to get an offer was to get myself in front of those coaches and really make an impression,” says Daly, now a senior at Downers Grove South who is rated the No. 3 long snapper by ESPNU. “I tried to be as proactive as possible.”

As a long snapper, the typical rules of recruiting don’t apply. For the No. 3 recruit at every other position, it’s the college coaches who are waking up at dawn to go out and visit them. Not so for long snappers. Only seven inked letters of intent with BCS schools on Signing Day in 2011. And that was a good year.

“Coaches are beginning to get more comfortable with the idea that there’s a difference between a great long snapper and an average long snapper,” says Chris Rubio, founder of Rubio Long Snapping, which identifies and instructs the nation’s top long snappers. “It’s a very difficult position, and with so much on the line these days in college football, coaches want someone they can count on.”

Many coaches, though, are content to let one of their players at a different position (typically tight end or linebacker) pull double duty as the long snapper. Other coaches let a walk-on handle the long-snapping duties.

Even the coaches who are open to recruiting a pure long snapper aren’t necessarily going out of their way to do so, which puts the impetus on high school long snappers to sell themselves.

For Buford (Ga.) senior Reid Ferguson — rated the No. 1 long snapper by ESPNU — that meant making videos of himself snapping perfectly for punts and field goals and sending them to colleges across the country. And once he determined who was truly interested in landing his services, he persistently called and sent letters to keep himself on their radar. In June, he accepted a scholarship offer from LSU.

“Coach (Les) Miles puts a huge emphasis on special teams, and I’ve seen them at practice and they spend a lot of time on it,” Ferguson says. “It can make or break a game, and a bad long snap can be the difference.”

Apparently Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly feels the same way. A month after Daly’s spring break barrage on South Bend, the Fighting Irish coach offered him a scholarship. Daly accepted almost immediately.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” he says, “did I think I’d be going to a school like Notre Dame to snap a football through my legs.”

Snap Judgment

The top 5 long snappers in the ESPNU rankings

1. Reid Ferguson

High School: Buford (Ga.)

College Commitment: LSU

2. Zach Hirth

High School: Eureka (Mo.)

College Commitment: Undecided

3. Scott Daly

High School: Downers Grove South (Downers Grove, Ill.)

College Commitment: Notre Dame

4. Kolton Donovan

High School: Pine View (St. George, Utah)

College Commitment: BYU

5. Jake Hurrell

High School: Howell North (St. Charles, Mo.)

College Commitment: Undecided