EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story was submitted by Andrew Pitz, an Academic All-America long snapper from Penn State. Pitz has spent the last two and a half months preparing for PSU's Pro Day Wednesday.
As I looked up -- this time without LSU 315-pound defensive tackle Al Woods on top of me -- and watched Colin Wagner's field goal sail through the uprights, everything came to a standstill. In that brief moment, a few realizations hit me.
First, we had won the Capital One Bowl, 19-17. No matter that time remained on the clock; I knew our defense would hold. Second, I felt validation for my entire career. Everything I had worked for -- from middle school football, high school and five years at Penn State -- had come down to that moment, and our field goal unit succeeded. Finally, it was likely the final play of my career and the last time I would ever step foot on a field as a player.
Looking back, it is somewhat amazing that all those thoughts can hit a person in the span of a few seconds. But they did. When the final gun sounded, I celebrated with the rest of my teammates. Watching Daryll Clark get the game MVP trophy was especially satisfying, as he was 22-4 as a starter yet was constantly criticized for “not playing well in big games.” In the season's biggest game, he put the team on his back and led us down the field on what became the game-winning drive. I'm sure he felt validation too.
When the on-field post-game celebration was over, I took my time making my way to the locker room. Again, this was likely the last time I would play football, and I was in no hurry to take off my pads. By chance, I happened to be standing next to the trophy. One of the Capital One Bowl reps approached me and asked if I wanted to carry it off the field. I looked at him wide-eyed and said “Sure.” The trophy probably weighed 80 pounds, but I barely felt it. Walking off the field holding a team trophy had been one of my childhood dreams. The other, celebrating a Rose Bowl birth with a rose in my mouth, I had been fortunate enough to accomplish the previous year. So after what seemed an eternity, I reached the locker room and set the trophy down so our players could pose for pictures. I took a moment to myself, slowly took off my pads, then joined the rest of the team in celebration.
That night, I joined my family for dinner in a little diner that was part of the Peabody Hotel. I was tired and didn't feel like venturing around Orlando looking for a place to eat. After dinner, my family stopped by Coach Paterno's open bar private event to say hi and thank the other coaches and staff -- guys like Spider and TK -- for a successful five years. After spending a bit more time with my family, it was time to go to bed. I had to catch the 6 a.m. shuttle to the airport for my 8 a.m. flight. When I arrived, my best friend's father graciously picked me up and took me home (My parents were driving home from Orlando to Bettendorf, Iowa, over a two-day period, since the trip took 20-24 hours). I'm not sure I moved from my couch that day; I watched the bowl games plus my two favorite basketball teams, Butler and Gonzaga, respectively. My plan was to take a few days off before turning my attention to the NFL and what it would take to snap at that level.
A few days later, when the time finally came, I sat down with my parents to discuss the next step. I had already had my parents reach out to a few agents through e-mail (I would have myself, but I was under the impression -- from Penn State -- that current players were not allowed to talk to agents, which is 100 percent false), and we decided that choosing one quickly and signing was the thing to do.
Back in November and into December, I had made a list of a few guys for my parents to check out. I had no idea where to start, but Penn State NCAA compliance director John Bove gave me a name, former PSU kicker Kevin Kelly gave me the names of both his agent and one he almost signed with, a potential trainer gave me the name of another, and I got two on my own -- one from the Internet and another from asking Kelly who represents former PSU punter Jeremy Kapinos. Penn State provided a questionnaire, and I sorted through their responses with the aid of my parents (I am pretty good at reading between the lines, but they are better).
Back to January. I had narrowed the list to three: Kevin Gold (who writes the longsnap.com blog), Rob Roche (who represents Kapinos), and John Elnitski (a patent attorney out of Bellefonte, Pa.). After speaking to them on the phone, I ended up selecting Roche, or RSR Sports Management (www.rsrsports.com). I liked the others, but Roche represents a lot of special teams players and I felt most comfortable with him. I called him, made a verbal commitment, and then set my sights on what to do about training.
I had spent the summer of 2008 working at a gym in State College called Victory Sports and Fitness and had gotten to know the owner, Rob Oshinskie, a former football player at Bucknell, pretty well. Rob and I met in December about the possibility of training in the winter, and I liked what he had to offer. For me, being in State College was critical. While many of my teammates went elsewhere, some to warm weather climates -- Daryll to Orlando, Andrew Quarless to Atlanta, Mickey Shuler to Pensacola -- I stayed in State College because, for me, my ability to snap was most critical. Penn State offered Holuba Hall and guys still on the team -- snappers Emery Etter and Jon Rohrbaugh, and punter Russ Nye -- who were willing to catch. While John Thomas and Jeremy Scott are some of the best in the business, I turned to Rob at Victory for more individualized attention. When I arrived in State College, Rob and I set-up my schedule as such:
Monday - Lift (Legs)
Tuesday - Lift (Upper Body)
Wednesday - Speed
Thursday - Lift (Legs)
Friday - Lift (Upper Body)
Saturday - Speed
Sunday - Off
In addition, I tried to keep my snapping schedule similar to the season -- snap Monday through Thursday, take Friday off, then snap a longer workout (like a game) on Saturday morning. I also ate a very strict diet. Such was the case for a few months.
Early on, I trained with a kid named Chris Campbell who currently plays football at Delaware. When he left for school, my training partner became former Notre Dame and current New York Jets' offensive lineman Mike Turkovich. “Turk” is a great guy who always encouraged me along the way (he is also unbelievably strong and agile, so hopefully he can perform well for the Jets). Later in the winter, current Buffalo Bills tight end Jon Stupar joined us for some sessions.
After a few weeks, Rob introduced me to his friend, Tim Griesser, a trainer at UPMC in Pittsburgh. One Thursday in late January, Rob and I drove to Pittsburgh to train with Tim. We were joined by Turk, and went through the combine testing (because they had the indoor facility where both the Steelers and Pitt Panthers practice and an electronic timing system) to assess where we were at. My best 40 was 5.03. My best shuttle was 4.56. My broad jump was 8-2. I rolled my ankle running the 3-cone. Yikes. Those numbers were not going to get it done. I was disappointed, but Rob assured me I would improve tremendously by the next time we would test.
I continued my training in State College until the weekend of February 20-21. That weekend, I flew to Arizona for Gary Zauner's “College Senior Specialists Combine,” an event for draft-eligible kickers, punters and snappers who were not invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. About 64 specialists showed up (the number could be off a bit). We were given Saturday and Sunday morning to perform; then Coach Zauner would pick the best of each position and recommend those players to NFL teams. Having a well-respected coach identify me as an NFL-ready player could only improve my chances. Fortunately, I performed well and my film was sent out. Mission accomplished. However, the camp was more than that. It was a truly great experience to meet and interact with other specialists from schools all over the country --- from South Florida to Washington State to Northeastern to San Jose State. Here is my video from the camp:
After returning to State College, I continued my training. I was eating well, but I kept losing weight. I couldn't understand why. Most of my life, I had tried to keep my weight down; now, I was struggling to keep it up. I needed to be 240-242, and on my lowest days, I was down around 231. Rob finally had enough. I came in one day, he called me into his office, and said, “I wrote you a new diet. Follow it exactly.” So I did. It was intense. I had to change the way I shopped and somewhat change the way I ate, as I was doing some things right but others not so well. Needless to say, a few weeks later, I was 240 again. Now I just had to maintain that weight for the Pro Day.
Rob also changed up my workout schedule. My new schedule went as follows:
Monday - Lift (Upper Body)
Tuesday - Speed in the morning, Lift early afternoon (Legs)
Wednesday - Lift (Light upper body)
Thursday - Off
Friday - Lift (Heavy bench, then legs)
Saturday - Speed and conditioning
Sunday - Off
I kept the same snapping schedule. We did many of the same lifts, but also changed some (no more one-leg Bulgarian squats was a bonus!).
A week before Pro Day, Rob and I again took a trip to UPMC in Pittsburgh to meet with Tim Griesser and run through a “Mock” Pro Day (one of Coach Zauner's assistants had suggested doing this). Rob's assurance that I would be much improved turned out to be right. This time, I hit a 4.90 machine-timed 40 (may have been even less on the hand time), ran a 4.34 and 4.35 shuttle, and had an 8-5 broad jump. I also ran the 3-cone twice -- 8.0 my first time, and 7.5 the second. Both times were not very good. I wasn't too discouraged, however, because I had not been working much on the 3-cone, as it is not terribly important for a snapper. As my agent said to me one night, “the 40 and how you snap on Pro Day are most important.” After testing, I snapped a little bit on the practice field. Former Pitt snapper Mark Estermyer and punter Dave Brytus were there working out, and it was nice to meet and get a chance to talk to them. When we were finished, we returned home.
I was satisfied with the results and excited for the running portion of Pro Day. My goal is to run under a 4.90 40, hit right around 4.35 in the shuttle, and snap to the best of my ability. Two snappers were invited to last year's NFL combine: Sean Griffin of Michigan and Jacob Ingram of Hawaii. Ingram was drafted in the sixth round and started all 16 games for the New England Patriots last season. According to the NFL's combine results, he put up 15 reps in the bench and ran a 5.07 and 5.20 40. I am hoping to approach his number of reps and beat that 40 by a lot, figuring doing so could only help my chances when compared to other snappers of my age (since those numbers seem to be about the standard for snappers).
I took last Thursday off, had a tough lift on Friday, did a light speed session Saturday, snapped Sunday and Monday, and am taking Tuesday off before the big day.
I never got nervous before games, but for some reason, I feel nervous for this. Maybe it comes with the territory of being a snapper. No one knows you unless you screw up. Fortunately, I didn't screw up during my playing days at Penn State, so no one knew me. Fine by me.
But now the spotlight is on me, as a bunch of scouts and coaches from the NFL, CFL and UFL will be watching my every move. So I am nervous, even if I shouldn't be. It's not like my life will end if I don't play football. Still, I have come a long way, and I want to do well and at least get a shot in a camp.
That is really all I could ask for. From there, it is up to me.
Stay tuned to FOS for Pro Day updates from Pitz and many of the other former Nittany Lions who are participating Wednesday.