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Under the radar

On Indiana’s roster, there is no depth chart at long snapper. There is no competition, no jockeying for attention or praise or playing time.

There is simply Matt Dooley, a sophomore from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Christian Academy, working each day to refine his ability to perform perhaps the most unnoticed task on a football field.

Dooley is Indiana’s only long snapper, the player whose job it is to make sure every attempted field goal and punt safely finds its way into the right hands.

After winning the job last fall from Zack Young, a junior college transfer from Kansas City, Dooley started all 12 of Indiana’s games. He was one of just 11 true freshmen to start at long snapper nationally, and he won special teams player of the week honors after IU’s loss at North Texas. Most importantly, none of his snaps were fumbled, and only one of the resulting kicks was blocked.

“It’s an art form,” Dooley said. “My coach back home, Ben Bernard, just taught me. I snapped for two years straight, four days a week, 100 snaps a night, non-stop, no breaks. That’s the commitment it takes to be able to be good and to play in the Big Ten.”

Long snapping is surely one of the most specialized jobs in football. Those whose job it is to spirit the football into a punter’s hands at 15 yards or a holder’s hands at seven spend hours — as Dooley alluded to — working purely on repetition and consistency.

“Getting the same snap perfectly, over and over again,” Dooley said, when asked what he works on in practice each day, “just putting it right on the hip if it’s a punt, and if it’s a field goal, getting the laces right, making it easy for the holder and kicker to get a good operation time.”

All that work can pay off, though, because every team needs a reliable long snapper.

Perhaps the best example of the position’s value is that of the Crofoot family, which sent five sons to college as either long snappers or holders. Two of those sons, John and Kyle, are currently on roster at Florida, John as a holder and Kyle as a long snapper. Charles Crofoot snapped for two years at Auburn, Ike for four at South Carolina. Clayton was a holder at Auburn as well.

Dooley’s story carries its own distinctive detail — his long-snapping ability made him the first player in Scottsdale Christian history to win a scholarship to a Football Bowl Subdivision school.

Indiana’s recently concluded spring practice saw Dooley working heavily on his rapport and chemistry with Mitchell Voss, who will take over as holder for the graduated Teddy Schell.

“You’ve got to have a little patience,” Dooley said of the snapper-holder relationship. “It honestly takes awhile. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a lot of repetition on the side.”

Still, Dooley’s job is a rather thankless one. It’s rare, truthfully, to hear anyone commend a long snapper. The most common memories attached to the position are those of failure, like Trey Junkin, whose errant snap contributed to a botched field-goal try that could have won a 2003 playoff game for the New York Giants.

Dooley doesn’t mind the pressure, or the lack of attention for his efforts. He’s content to operate in relative anonymity, arguably the best position in which a long snapper can find himself.

“I’m just glad to be here and be able to do my part and just do it well,” Dooley said. “I like being kind of under-the-radar. It was nice making a few tackles last year (three total, including two against Purdue). That’s always exciting for a long snapper.

“I’m content with my position, just doing it well.”

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