The Forgotten Face of a Long Snapper

When the offense can’t move the chains on third down and the punter comes on the field, it’s a time for many football fans to get up, get some food, or take a bathroom break. What those fans are missing or perhaps passively watching, though, is one of the most important aspects of a football game. Special teams often make the difference between winning and losing, and the most important man on the field rarely ever gets mentioned or noticed. He’s the long snapper.
Sam Rodgers ’11 started long snapping in the eighth grade when his middle school coach begged for volunteers. Encouraged by his dad (John ’79) to pursue the position, Sam soon discovered a new natural talent. As he likes to say, “You can long snap, or you can’t.” Most can’t. Malcolm Robinson writes on that long snapping “is a skill that can be taught—taught to some people—like a lot of skills, but some will learn it with work, and others never will.”

As Sam practiced over the next three years, his natural talent became a refined skill. Practicing more than 40 long snaps daily over this past summer, for example, Rodgers continued to hone his accuracy and increase his speed. Almost every day before practice, Sam heads to the weight room where he tosses a medical ball to warm up his arms. Then he joins his teammates on the practice field. In addition to long-snapping, Sam plays right guard on offense and defensive end. Sam hopes to continue long-snapping at a big college. “The prospect of playing in college motivates me to stay up late doing so much homework, and to also work out and practice every day,” he says.

Growing up in State College, Pennsylvania, Sam played every sport he could find. In addition to backyard football, he wrestled and played baseball, volleyball, soccer, and basketball. When he arrived at Mercersburg in August 2008, he quickly established himself as the team’s long snapper. Ranked #25 in the country at long snapper by one magazine and by, Sam knows immediately if a snap was good or not. “I can tell when it leaves my hands if it’s on target,” he relays as he sits with the team’s punter, A.J. Firestone ’10. So far this year, all of Sam’s snaps have been on target.

“He’s as good of a long snapper as we’ve had at Mercersburg in my long career,” notes assistant coach Karl Reisner.  “Velocity, spin, direction, reliability, in good or bad weather—it’s all there. And that makes our punting game much stronger as a result.”

Firestone concurs: “Punting becomes a lot more fun when you know that someone like Sam is going to be launching the ball from 15 yards away. I’ve had to chase down a lot of overhead snaps in my career as a punter. I like this better.”

The next time the punting unit runs out on the field and you have the slightest inclination to get up, stay seated. What happens is pretty spectacular; and if you make it to one of Mercersburg’s two final home games, when it comes time for the long snap, you’ll see Sam remove his gloves, wipe his hands, clap once, bounce up and down, settle into his stance, grab the ball, look back at an upside down target 15 yards behind him, and fire.

When Firestone punts the ball and it is stopped inside the 5-yard line, few will think twice about what Sam has done. Because even fans rarely think about the long snapper—and that’s just the way Sam Rodgers likes it.

—by Aric DiLalla ’12, sports information reporter
Founded in 1893 in the heart of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, Mercersburg is a private, coed, college preparatory boarding school with 430 students (18 percent are day), grades 9-12 and postgraduate.
We offer 160 courses, including AP and Honors, $5.1 million in financial aid, 26 varsity sports, and a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts center.
Located 90 minutes from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and within easy driving distance to New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
300 East Seminary Street, Mercersburg PA 17236