Unsung heroes of the game
Published: Monday, October 24, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 24, 2011 23:10
Freshman long snapper Nathan Gibbs lives by a quote: "Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, special teams win championships."
"I like to say that a lot because people don't really put emphasis on special teams [on a football squad]," Gibbs said.
Youngstown State University head coach Eric Wolford, a former Kansas State University offensive lineman, said long snappers are unsung heroes.
"[They're] probably just as important as any position there is on the football field," he said. "You don't get a lot of attention … until something goes wrong. They handle the ball, and that's as important as a quarterback or running back."
Wolford added that he was never a long snapper because he did not have the necessary accuracy.
Louie Matsakis, special teams coordinator, said a long snapper complements kickers and punters.
"I think having a good one helps the confidence of your kicker and punter," he said.
"We have two really good ones in our program right now."
The team's two long snappers are Gibbs and senior Nate Schkurko. Schkurko is dealing with a shoulder injury that has limited his playing time and could potentially cause him to miss the rest of the season.
"It's big shoes to fill," Gibbs said. "But I've had opportunities this year when he's been injured. I feel I've done well enough."
Gibbs started Saturday against Saint Francis University and helped the team score seven points. He said the stress level is always high, no matter the situation.
"Even if you do well, there's still that little bit you can do better at," he said. "Say the kick is fine, the snap is fine, but the block isn't fine. There are always those things you can fine-tune to your game."
Wolford added that the position is stressful.
"It's serious business," Wolford said. "Field goals, extra points, punts. Snap it over a punter's head, and it's crucial."
Gibbs said he primarily improves his game on his own.
"You don't really have a coach there all the time, so it's kind of how you make yourself better," Gibbs said.
Trevor Parks, sports information director, said coaches do not help with long snappers often because players either "have it or they don't." Parks added that there is only so much a snapper needs to learn.
Thus far, Matsakis said Gibbs has exceeded expectations as a true freshman.
"He did a great job up in Michigan State [University]. First half of the season, he's done a pretty good job," Matsakis said.
During the beginning of every practice, the Penguins practice their punting and field goals. After that, it's mostly about improving the offense and defense.
Although long snappers are unable to get the same workload as offensive and defensive players do during practice, they get the same workouts.
"They work on their techniques, drills and firing the balls for accuracy," Wolford said.
"They work with their punters and different things like that."
Wolford added that no difference exists between a long and regular snapper.
Matsakis agreed, adding that the spread offense helped change that.
"Our regular snapper has to snap a shotgun snap, which is just as far as a field goal," Matsakis said. "Other than that, maybe there's a little difference between a punt snapper and a regular snapper. You have to be a little bit thinner and leaner to run downfield."
Matsakis added that long snappers do not need to worry about blocking a tackler.
"On our punt team, they don't have to block anybody," Matsakis said. "They just snap the ball and run downfield and hopefully make a tackle. On field goals, they have to block a little bit, but not much because we have 200- [to] 300-pound linemen next to them."