Long snapper: The Invisible Man, Reid Ferguson
When I first pitched this column to our Editor in Chief, Adam Nannini, I told him I thought a good name for it would be “Two Dollar Bills” because I wanted to write about things that we as fans don’t know a lot about, take for granted, or don’t fully understand the history of.
This week, I found the perfect thing: the Long Snapper, or more to the point “our” long snapper, Reid Ferguson. I and my co-hosts were lucky enough to interview him for the Trust the Process podcast, and I discovered how much I didn’t know about Reid’s job while doing my research. and I figured there might be other people out there just like me.
Who is Reid Ferguson?
Reid is a 24 yr old native of Buford, Georgia, a city just outside of Atlanta. Reid went to LSU and was signed by the Bills as an undrafted Free Agent in 2016. He spent some time on the practice squad and eventually was signed to the 53-man roster where he has remained since 2017. He started snapping when he was in the 8th grade after his team’s center got hurt and ended up leaving high school as a 5-star recruit at the long snapping position. Reid spent 4 years at LSU as the long snapper, and when he left for the NFL, his brother Blake took over and this year won the National Championship with LSU.
What Does Reid’s Job Entail?
Long Snapping is the art, yes, I said the art, of getting the ball from the line of scrimmage to the holder on field goals and to the punter accurately and quickly. Some of you are probably thinking, “But the Bills already have a guy who snaps the football. Why do they need another one?”
Simple, snapping the ball to the Quarterback and snapping the ball to the punter are two completely different things. To begin with, the distance the snap must travel is very different. For a shotgun snap, the ball travels seven yards to the Quarterback. On a field goal, the ball travels eight yards and on punts, it travels 15 yards. Long snappers must have a tighter spiral on the ball than the Quarterback does in order to get the ball back to the punter or holder as fast as possible. After the snap, Reid is responsible for blocking and then running down the field to cover the kick on punt plays.
Underappreciated and Invisible
Most of us take punting, kicking field goals and extra points as something that is easy and should just happen every time. Even NFL teams themselves were slow to recognize how important having a long snap specialist was. The first known player to be drafted specifically for his snapping ability was Todd Thomas in 1981, which may seem like a long time ago, but let’s remember the NFL just celebrated its 100th season.
Up until recently, most teams would have an offensive lineman or tight end or linebacker pull double duty as a long snapper as well. In recent years, it has become apparent to the entire league that a long snapper is necessary, and all 32 teams now have one.
After doing my research and talking with Reid, I can tell you that there is nothing simple or routine about any part of a field goal or a punt play. While I have never tried to long snap a football, I’m very comfortable saying that long snapping a football on time and accurately is the third hardest thing in sports, right behind hitting a baseball and hitting a golf ball so that it lands in the fairway. Despite this the only time we tend to notice the long snapper is when a mistake is made. I found this great quote from an article on predominantlyorange.com
“On the list of the most underrated jobs in football, there sits a player who no one notices until a mistake is made in his area of expertise. Games are all too often decided on his touch, but credit for winning a game is never placed upon his shoulders.”
I didn’t have a chance to ask Reid about this during the interview, but I think it sums up his job pretty well. He admittedly doesn’t get many requests for interviews, and when a reporter does want to ask him some questions, it isn’t always about him. It’s often about one of his teammates.
In the context of NFL salaries, long snappers aren’t paid very well and there isn’t a lot of glory that comes with the job. Things are beginning to change for long snappers a little bit. In 2019, college football added a long snapper specific award named after Patrick Mannelly who played at Duke and who’s known for his long snapping with the Chicago Bears. Reid certainly received some recognition of his own during the “bottle cap challenge” when he made a video of himself unscrewing the top of two water bottles with a long snap.
I certainly learned a lot about long snapping this week, and I hope this article gave you some insight into it as well. I would encourage you to check out Reid’s interview on the Trust the Process podcast. He goes into a lot of detail about the intricacies that make up a field goal and a punt. The next time you’re watching a Bills game and they kick a field goal or must punt, give a little cheer for the guy who snapped the ball. His job may look simple and easy, but it takes a lot of skill and practice. And as always Bills Mafia #loveyourlocallongsnapper