Aug. 27, 2010
Today’s tale from the category of the un-categorized is about Tyler Morgan. Perhaps you’ve never heard of him. He is, after all, the sophomore who whistles footballs between his legs when Georgia Tech punts.
For all the fun poked last season at Tech punter Chandler Anderson, whom coach Paul Johnson asked to punt 37 times in 14 games (including three games where the Yellow Jackets did not punt at all), here are words of caution: don’t mistake the fact that the boss doesn’t care to punt for the notion that he doesn’t care much about the punting “operation.”
Wrong. Deep-snapping is considered serious business and Morgan and his coach approach it thusly. Otherwise, Johnson, offensive line co-coach Mike Sewak and wide receivers coach Buzz Peterson would not have visited Morgan’s Fayetteville (Ga.) home a couple years ago to recruit him, which they did, nor would Johnson award Morgan a scholarship prior to fall semester, which he did, nor would Morgan answer, “absolutely,” when asked if he wants to ride his skill set to the NFL. He does.
Not bad for a young man who did not start for Whitewater High until his senior year, when he was a good – but not Division I-caliber – wide receiver (and a heck of a snapper).
At its roots, this is the tale of Tyler and Ted, the father who once upon a time was coaching some tots when he came upon a desperate situation and looked to his son for a bail out. “In youth football, nobody knew how to do it or wanted to do it and my dad just kind of threw me in there,” Morgan said. “I basically taught myself how to do it.”
To the naked eye, which is to say yours, there might not be much difference between what Morgan has taught himself to do in zipping the ball 15 yards between his legs and the way Jeff Lentz snaps it about seven yards for field goal attempts and PATs.
Yet just as there are different forms of science, so too are the disciplines of snapping diverse. Here, from the long snapper, is the long and short of it:
“Everybody has different techniques. Jeff and I do different things,” Morgan said. “A lot of it is the way you hold the ball, and keeping your butt down. If you pop your butt up you’re going to sail it over [the punter’s] head. It’s a lot of muscle memory.
“Jeff has a more narrow stance, and his arms are a little straighter and his butt is more up. I get a little wider, and keep my butt down and use my hips to drive through. He basically is all arms.”
To an outsider, this might strike as more nuance than science and perhaps it is, but there is no disputing cold, hard numbers. Stopwatch times skitter across Morgan Tyler’s brainpan like BBs in a skillet.
“I’m in the high .6 [-second] range, between .68 and .72. It’s the time from when I snap to when the punter catches the ball,” he said. “In high school I was snapping 14 yards so I was a little faster. I was .6s consistently. The snap to kick operation [time] is really the most important.”
Accuracy is the other hugely critical box to be checked every time by a long or short snapper. The long guy also has an assignment that a short snapper does not: try to make a downfield tackle.
Morgan did that when he took over deep-snapping duties in the fourth game last season, registering a stop against North Carolina as he became the only non-scholarship true freshman to play last season.
This is no passing fancy; Morgan means business and goes about his task like the professional he hopes to become.
To a great degree, he triggered his own recruitment by putting together a video tape of himself in action and sending it to many college programs. “Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, Florida State,” he said.
“I was never really a Tech fan growing up until Coach Sewak got in touch with me senior year. I started talking to them and other schools. I didn’t know where I wanted to until near February. Coach Johnson and Coach Sewak and (assistant coach Al) Buzz (Preston) came to the house and talked to me. That was pretty much it.”
Morgan arrived at Tech as a “preferred” walk-on in the summer of 2009. That meant he was allowed to report with scholarship players rather than having to wait until the beginning of classes and he was slotted among the first in line for a scholarship if it were to become available, and if he earned it.
He did. There may be no heavy lifting in snapping, but this management major has done heavy lifting.
“I’ve gained about 30 pounds, and I’m a lot stronger,” Morgan said. “When I graduated high school, I looked like a twig. I was 6-3, about 180, 185 pounds. I weigh about 210. Hopefully by the time I graduate I’ll be about 235.”
This is unique and important work. A botched punt can change the tenor of a game, which can shape a season. Good thing there’s no madness to this young man’s method; only meticulous routine.
“Before the kick, I’m looking back [between his legs], then I look up, then look back,” Morgan said. “When we give the “Gold-gold,” call, which means we’re ready to go, I’ll bring my head up. One of the up backs, Albert Rocker, is the guy who calls it. That tells me, `Alright, we’re ready to go.’
“I’ll look back up, and when I’m ready, I snap it. Some people do it looking back. Jeff and I look up.”