September 23, 2021

Article at Gryphon Football

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The Underrated Role of the Longsnapper

Jake Reinhart can vividly recall the most pressure-filled long snap of his football career. On a snowy field in Ottawa, Reinhart had to be on the mark in the fourth quarter against the Calgary Stampeders in the dying moments of the 105th Grey Cup. With the score tied 24-24, he snapped the ball to Toronto’s holder Cody Fajardo, and Lirim Hajrullahu kicked a 32-yard field goal to deliver a Grey Cup victory.

That unique ability to long snap enabled Reinhart to carve out a memorable career in the Canadian Football League. The Guelph native and former Gryphon Football star was a standout defensive player in his third year with the U of G program when he first learned the art of long snapping. Defensive line coach Brian Cluff pestered him to work on it, believing that if he became proficient, it would help the linebacker get more interest from CFL teams.

Now seven years into his life as a pro player, including the 2020 season lost to the pandemic, Reinhart is the longest-serving member on the Toronto Argonauts roster.

“I joke that Coach Cluff was a prophet,” says Reinhart, the proud owner of that Grey Cup ring. “He nailed that prediction.”

Long before his championship moment on the snow-covered Ottawa turf, Reinhart honed his long snapping at the rugby field adjacent to Alumni Stadium. He began with just a few minutes each time he practiced but as he became more adept, Reinhart worked at it for longer stretches. It’s a difficult skill to do alone so he built his own net to catch the ball. Leading up to each season and especially in May, the homemade equipment gets a lot of work.

“I constructed the frame out of ABS pipe and fastened a mesh back-catcher net used for baseball between the frame,” Reinhart says. “I cut the mesh and attached two pockets, one at the height of a punt snap, and the other a little lower at the location of a field goal snap placement.

“I built a second net and made some improvements because the initial prototype began to fall apart. That was four years ago and that one is still standing strong. I might have to trademark it.”

There might not be a more unheralded position on a football team than the long snapper. While quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and star defensive players receive the plaudits, the long snapper’s work is essentially only recognized when there’s a mistake. But to be strong in that department gives any good football team a massive edge. Programs at the highest level, including the NFL, now have dedicated players to long snap, as opposed to the past when it was an additional duty for someone at another position.

“The long snapper is a specialist,” says Coach Cluff. “It’s a skill that very few can master. The kicking game involves transferring the football to the other team and you want to gain as much field position as possible. An average punt might go 40 yards and you think about that amount of real estate your team can gain. If you have a bad snap, which causes the punter to rush or take too much time and get blocked, there is real estate that exchanges hands.

“He is also snapping the ball for field goals. He has to get the ball on the mark and the snap has to be good so the holder can put it in place. There are points at stake.

“Having a long snapper is a critical part of the game. Every team is actively looking for one.”

There is a general consensus on the fundamentals needed to be a good long snapper – strong stance, both hands on the ball, and delivering a tight spiral. In a Combine situation, long snappers are timed for their speed from release to landing in the punter’s hands. A strong snap time is approximately .70 seconds to travel the typical 15 yards. And there are individual techniques to perfect the snap. For example, Reinhart likes to roll his right wrist and use his left hand to guide the football. He also emphasizes pulling through with the elbows and extending the hamstrings simultaneously, which produces power.

“It’s not really the technique that matters but that the ball gets to the target quickly, accurately, and that the snapper is able to get in a good blocking position,” he says. “That’s what really counts.”

Gryphon Football has historically had excellent long snappers. Coach Cluff played on the Gryphons 1984 Vanier Cup-winning team and recalls how good his teammate Peter Simpson was at long snapping. After Simpson came Blaine Schmidt, a U of G player selected 17th overall in the 1986 CFL Draft. Schmidt would play 12 seasons in the league between the Edmonton Eskimos, Argonauts, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, winning a Grey Cup during his tenure in Toronto.

“Blaine was probably the first high-profile guy from Guelph that ended up long snapping in the CFL,” says Coach Cluff.

Former Gryphon Dan Wicklum was another to master the skill and make it to the CFL. Dan MacDonald did the same. The son of Gryphon offensive line coach Mike MacDonald, Dan enjoyed an incredible career at the U of G before being drafted by the Argos as a long snapper in 2015. He made his mark at the professional level as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“I have snapped since I was nine years old when my Dad started me on it,” says MacDonald, who was named to the Gryphons’ most recent Team of the Decade because of his mastery of the skill.

“The best long snapper is a silent one,” he adds. “The less times you are mentioned, the better you are. The teams that struggle to long snap worry every time they try to punt or kick field goals. They’re worried that the ball will be launched 10 yards over the kicker’s head or more importantly, that they’re losing field position and points.”

“Ask any high-level coach how a player can make a roster and it’s being able to long snap, because it’s something you never want to think about.”

MacDonald remembers his recruiting trip to Guelph and seeing Reinhart working on snapping.

“Jake got the job done automatically,” he says. “Watching him, you could tell he was just built for it.”

MacDonald would hold down the important role after Reinhart departed for the CFL. Coach Cluff was amazed by his ability to produce consistent snaps and in turn, help the Gryphons in the ongoing battle to gain critical field position each game throughout the season.

“Dan was so special at the skill,” the coach recalls. “For short snaps on a field goal, he could even get the laces to a particular position so the holder could have them facing away for the kick. He perfected it and ended up going to the CFL because of it.”

MacDonald also played a vital role in making long snapping a tradition in the Reinhart family, helping Jake teach his younger brother Job the skill. The younger Reinhart capped his university career in style, winning both the Wildman Trophy and Gryphon Male Athlete of the Year honours. He was best known as an All-Star linebacker but evolved to become another name on Guelph’s long list of elite long snappers.

“I’m pretty sure I first tried long snapping in Guelph Bears junior football,” says Job, who was drafted by the Calgary Stampeders in 2019 and has since started a career as a police officer in Waterloo. “I was a quarterback, but I thought I could figure it out since it was pretty much throwing the ball, but just between your legs.

“Jake definitely encouraged me to take it more seriously in university and I saw it as an opportunity to get playing time as soon as possible.”

The Reinharts would make a competition out of long snapping, seeing who could throw the most strikes. One of the most impressive feats the elder Reinhart managed was to snap a ball from the top of the Alumni Stadium press box into a garbage can on the field.

“It was an absolute bullseye,” says Jake. “Job had his doubts, but I was certain I would hit it.”

Written By: David DiCenzo

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/Argos